Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Bernie Casey, the actor and former NFL player who starred in several of the most well known films of the past 40 years, has died at the age of 78.
His agent confirmed the news to Entertainment Weekly and said the actor was surrounded by his loved ones.
Casey passed away after a brief illness at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Born in West Virginia in 1939 and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Casey was a standout athlete and earned an athletic scholarship to Bowling Green State University, where he helped the team win a national championship in 1959.
The San Francisco 49ers scooped up Casey by making him the ninth overall pick in the 1961 NFL Draft. He went on to have an impressive pro football career with 359 catches, 5,444 yards and 40 touchdowns before hanging up the cleats at the age of 30 to focus on acting, poetry and painting.
As he pursued his visual art, Casey also excelled in performance art by acting in dozens of movies over the next few decades, including some of the most heralded in their genre, such as blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones and '80s comedy classic Revenge of the Nerds.
He also starred in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, a comedic parody of blaxploitation movies that helped launch the careers of Kennan Ivory Wayans and Chris Rock.
Regarding the switch from athlete to artist, Casey once said he had too much life to live to be pegged only as a jock.
"When that sojourn is over and you're 32 or something, when most people are just beginning to understand who they are, what they can do and what life is all about, you have been considered in the world of sports a dinosaur," he said during an interview for NFL Films. "From that point on, it's a downward spiral into the abyss of non-consideration and obscurity and a lot of other things that they never recover from. I want to think in my instance, it's the beginning. There's a lot of life left after 32."