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LOS ANGELES -- Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, who helped form one of the NFL's greatest defensive lines before embarking on a successful career in television, died Thursday after a battle with cancer. He was 69.

Olsen was a member of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" along with Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier in the 1960s.

He later starred on NFL broadcasts, commercials, and as Jonathan Garvey on the TV series "Little House on the Prairie."

"He was ferocious and fearless on the football field and then the other probably more important aspect of his personality was he was a true gentleman," said fellow Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood, his teammate with the Rams in Los Angeles.

"We all know what a wonderful, tremendous football player he was, but he was so much more than that."

Utah State, Olsen's alma mater, said he died outside of Los Angeles.

He was diagnosed last year with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining often linked to asbestos.

Olsen filed a lawsuit last year, claiming he contracted the disease as a result of being exposed to asbestos on construction sites where he worked as a child and young adult.

"He cared deeply about people, especially those that shared the game of football with him," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Merlin was a larger-than-life person, literally and figuratively, and leaves an enormously positive legacy."

Olsen was a consensus All-American at Utah State and won the 1961 Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman.

The Rams drafted him third overall in 1962 and he spent the next 15 years with the team, and is still the franchise's career leader in tackles with 915.

He was picked to 14 straight Pro Bowls, a string that began with his rookie year.

He joined Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier on the Rams' storied "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line known for either stopping or knocking backward whatever offenses it faced.

The Rams set an NFL record for the fewest yards allowed during a 14-game season in 1968.

Youngblood joined the Rams as a rookie in 1971, backing up Jones as Olsen continued to anchor the other side of the line.

Youngblood remembered Olsen telling him as a young player to push to be great not just on every play, but with "every heartbeat."

"When you stop and think of Merlin on the field, he accomplished things that will never be accomplished again," Youngblood said. "If it hadn't been for Merlin Olsen, I wouldn't have turned out to be the football player that he helped mold and make."

Former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Jerry Kramer remembered in his 1968 book "Instant Replay," co-written with late sportswriter and broadcaster Dick Schaap, dreading Olsen.

"I'll be facing Merlin Olsen, and that's definitely work, not fun," Kramer wrote. "Merlin never lets up. He'll run right over you no matter what the score is."