Charles Aaron ‘Bubba’ Smith, winner of the 1971 Super Bowl and later starring as ‘Moses Hightower’ in the Police Academy movies died aged 66. The larger-than-life actor and sportsman was found in his LA home.
The cause of death was not determined immediately, but the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said in a statement: “There is no indication of anything other than natural death.”
Smith’s former Michigan State team-mate, Gene Washington told the Detroit Free Press: “I had no idea that he was even ill or that anything could be wrong. It’s incredibly sad because Bubba was such a larger-than-life figure. Nothing surprised you with Bubba.”
Bubba Smith was a giant; 6’7” tall and weighed in at 300lbs, he was born in Texas under the name of Charles Aaron Smith and acquired his name thank to his fierce defensive play on the field at Michigan State University. He later joined the Baltimore Colts in 1967 and following his success there he played for the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers. He retired from the sport in 1976.
His acting career began with small roles in shows like Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angels and he was also the face of Miller Lite Beer during the 70s and 80s – a lucrative job he eventually decided to quit because it contradicted his teetotal lifestyle. In 1984 he fell into the role of florist-turned-cop, Moses Hightower, in Police Academy; a role which made him a household name for a decade.
Smith was well liked and after his passing he received many tributes, including this from his good friend Gene Washington, who grew up amid the same racial prejudices Smith faced.
“If it wasn’t for Bubba, I never would have gotten to Michigan State. His father (Willie Ray Smith) was his football coach and he told (Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty) that he should recruit me as well,” said Washington.
The pair competed against each other, playing for exclusively black high schools at a time when racialism was still very much an issue and a barrier to progress for many black people. Smith suffered the ignominy of rejection from the University of Texas on the basis of his skin colour and in a 2008 HBO documentary, Breaking the Huddle, Smith said he could never understand why the university wouldn’t take him on but that it only served to push him harder to make the school and Texans regret their attitudes.
Michigan State would of course be forever appreciative of their Southern brethren’s intolerance.
“He was quite simply one of the greatest football players ever,” says Washington.