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Athlete-turned-actor Charles Aaron “Bubba” Smith was found dead at his Los Angeles home on Wednesday. He was 66 and died of natural causes.
Smith is best known in the entertainment world for his work in the Police Academy film franchise of the 1980s. He played Moses Hightower, a softspoken florist joining the academy alongside fellow recruits Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), Eugene Tackleberry (David Graf), Larvelle Jones (Michael Winslow) and Zed McGlunk (Bobcat Goldthwait).
Smith also starred in the short-lived television series Blue Thunder, partnering with Dick Butkus, another former NFL defensive star, and had regular roles in such other series as Semi-Tough, Open All Night and Half Nelson. He appeared in Blood River, a 2010 indie film.
Here are five notable roles by Smith:
1. Moses Hightower, Police Academy franchise
Smith played gentle giant Moses Hightower in six of the Police Academy films.
2. Lyman “Bubba” Kelsey, Blue Thunder
Based on the feature film about and LAPD helicopter squad, ABC’s Blue Thunder hovered for 11 episodes. Smith played the lead character.
3. Robin, Open All Night
ABC’s early ’80s sitcom about a dysfunctional family and their convenience store.
4. Guest star, Rodney Dangerfield: Exposed
Smith, a mechanic, is schooled on how to rip off customers by Dangerfield. Former NFL player Dick Butkus is also featured in the sketch.
5. Civil rights trailblazer.
Smith’s most influential role had nothing to do with film or television. The Texas native attended Michigan State and joined its football team because his college of choice, the University of Texas, did not allow black players. He and several other black athletes went on to make Michigan State’s football program a national powerhouse. Schools like UT eventually changed their stances because of skilled athletes like Smith. Smith told the Detroit Free Press, “That’s what ultimately pushed the Southern schools to recruit black players. They were simply letting too much talent get away from them.”
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