Ben Davidson, an iconic face of the 1960s-era Oakland Raiders who later became an actor and a popular fixture in Miller Lite television commercials, died July 2 at age 72. He had been in treatment for prostate cancer, but the location of his death was not reported. Former Raiders coach John Madden reported Mr. Davidson’s death on KCBS radio in San Francisco.
If the late Al Davis was the creator of the renegade Raiders, then Mr. Davidson could be considered one of the founding fathers, cutting a larger-than-life swath with his handlebar mustache and intimidating 6-foot-8 physical presence at defensive end.
His 11-year professional football career started with the Green Bay Packers. After one season there and two with the Washington Redskins, he moved to the American Football League and the Raiders in 1964. He was an AFL All-Star three times and played in Super Bowl II with the Raiders.
The career path of Benjamin Earl Davidson was rarely predictable. Born June 14, 1940, in Los Angeles, he didn’t play football as a child. He finally gave the sport a try in his freshman year at East Los Angeles College.
“I think I just decided that I’d try it,” he told the Los Angeles Times in a 2010 interview at his home in San Diego. “I didn’t know the positions. I knew that center was probably in the middle, but I’d only been to one or two games.”
Davis had had his eye on Mr. Davidson going back to when Davis was an assistant coach with the University of Southern California. Mr. Davidson went from East L.A. College to the University of Washington and played on two Rose Bowl championship teams with the Huskies in 1960 and 1961. Davis and Mr. Davidson were finally able to join forces in Oakland.
Mr. Davidson’s sense of fun and his renegade persona made him a natural TV pitchman after his football career, most prominently in a series of Miller Lite commercials.
His first movie role came in 1970 in Robert Altman’s “M*A*S*H,” in which he brought a slice of Raider Nation to an intrasquad football game. He also appeared in “Conan the Barbarian” and “Necessary Roughness.”
Mr. Davidson’s most notable moment of controversy on the field came in 1970, when he dived into Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson with his helmet late in a game, when Dawson was on the ground. Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor retaliated by leaping on Mr. Davidson, bringing on a bench-clearing brawl.
The Raiders rallied to tie the game and ultimately won the AFC West.
Mr. Davidson’s survivors include his wife, Kathy; and three daughters.
“I hate to say this for print,” Mr. Davidson said in the 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “But I’m 70 years old, and I’ve never had a real job.”