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Dick Butkus, legendary Chicago Bears linebacker, dies at 80

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(MALIBU, Calif.) — Dick Butkus, the legendary Chicago Bears linebacker, has died, his family said. He was 80.

Butkus “died peacefully” in his sleep overnight at his home in Malibu, California, his family said in a statement Thursday.

“The Butkus family is gathering with Dick’s wife Helen,” the statement continued. “They appreciate your prayers and support.”

Bears chairman George McCaskey said Butkus was “one of the greatest players in NFL history” and exuded “toughness, smarts, instincts, passion and leadership.”

“His legacy of philanthropy included a mission of ridding performance enhancing drugs from sports and promoting heart health,” McCaskey said in a statement. “His contributions to the game he loved will live forever and we are grateful he was able to be at our home opener this year to be celebrated one last time by his many fans.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Butkus was a “fierce and passionate competitor who helped define the linebacker position as one of the NFL’s all-time greats.”

“Dick’s intuition, toughness and athleticism made him the model linebacker whose name will forever be linked to the position and the Chicago Bears,” Goodell said in a statement.

Goodell also recognized Butkus’ work to advance health and wellness through his foundation.

“The Dick Butkus Award and his foundation honored achievement on the field and service to the community among high school, college and NFL linebackers,” Goodell said. “Dick was a champion of clean sports as his ‘I Play Clean’ campaign helped raise awareness about the dangers of steroid use among high school athletes.”

The Chicago native played for the Bears starting in 1965 until his retirement in 1973. He was named first-team All-NFL six times and played in eight consecutive Pro Bowls.

He was also recognized as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year twice.

His career totals included 1,020 tackles and 489 assists.

Butkus was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility.

The University of Illinois graduate was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

Following his retirement from football, Butkus also had a career in the entertainment industry, appearing in films including Any Given Sunday and Necessary Roughness and the television shows My Two Dads and Hang Time.

Butkus is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Helen, who was his high school sweetheart, three children and five grandchildren.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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