Ben Davidson, Former Oakland Raider and TV Beer Pitchman, Dies at 72
Ben Davidson, a fierce defensive end for the bad-ass Oakland Raiders of the 1960s who later worked as an actor and TV pitchman for Miller Lite beer, has died. He was 72.
Davidson died Monday night from prostate cancer, his former Raiders coach, John Madden, reported on his KCBS morning radio show in San Francisco.
Davidson, who stood an intimidating 6-foot-8 and sported a handlebar mustache, terrorized opponents during his 11-year NFL career, eight of them with the renegade Raiders from 1964-71. During one game in 1970, he picked up Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson and drove him into the ground head-first, igniting a benches-clearing brawl.
Davidson appeared in 27 comical commercials for Miller Lite beer in a years-long campaign that featured sporting figures and entertainers like Madden, Bubba Smith, Dick Butkus, Mickey Spillane and Rodney Dangerfield. During one memorable spot in 1982, in the final frame of a bowling tournament, he menacingly reminds Dangerfield, "All we need is one pin, Rodney." (Watch the commercial here.)
Davidson traveled extensively for corporate outings to promote Miller Lite, he told the Los Angeles Times in 2010.
"I'm not Catholic, but sometimes when I say, 'Lite beer,' I make the sign of a cross,: he said. "If I could have designed a job for myself post-football, it would have been exactly what I did."
A native of Los Angeles who didn't take up football until his freshman year at East Los Angeles College (he would later star for the University of Washington), Davidson made his first appearance in the movies in Robert Altman's MASH (1970), during which he plays in an intrasquaf football game and spits water on Gary Burghoff at halftime.
The motorcycle enthusiast had regular roles on the short-lived 1970s TV series Ball Four and Code R, guest-starred on episodes of Banacek, Police Woman, Simon & Simon, Happy Days and Fantasy Island, and appeared in the films Behind the Green Door (1972), Conan the Barbarian (1980) and Necessary Roughness (1991).
Many members of the Raiders learned of Davidson's death when they were in Las Vegas to honor Al Davis, the Oakland coach and owner who died in October and would have turned 83 on Wednesday.
Davidson, who lived in San Diego, is survived by Kathy, his wife of more than 50 years, and daughters Jan, Dana and Vicki.