EXPIRED: 03/11/10 – Merlin Olsen, 69, played football with the Los Angeles Rams for 15 seasons and was elected to the Pro Bowl for all but 1 of those years.
After leaving football he did what many former athletes do – he talked about sports. Olsen served as a television color commentator, teaming with Dick Enberg on NBC throughout the 1980s. It was his NBC contract that gave him his big break – a little provision in his contract allowed him to act if anything was ever offered to him.
Enter Laura Ingalls.
When “Little House on the Prairie” actor Victor French left to star in his own comedy “Carter Country” in 1977, Olsen was tapped to play Michael Landon’s new sidekick Jonathan Garvey for several years. One memorable quote from Olsen during the series, “I don’t know nothin’ bout football!” was when Charles and Jonathan were to coach a boys football team. The chemistry and camaraderie between Landon and Olsen was working so years later when Landon was directing and producing a new series about a renegade priest, he had Olsen in mind. Landon cast Olsen as the title character “Father Murphy,” which lasted for two seasons.
Olsen’s last acting work was in the short-lived 1988 TV series “Aaron’s Way,” in which he played the lead role. For some, he might be best known as the spokesman for the FTD florists commercials that ran for many, many years.
Olsen was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009 and underwent three courses of chemotherapy. In December 2009 he filed a lawsuit against NBC Studios, NBC Universal, and 20th Century Fox for exposing him to asbestos that he believed was the cause of his cancer. Obviously, the case never came to court.