Merlin Olsen (74) was born 15 September 1940 in Logan, Cache County, Utah, United States to Lynn Jay Olsen (1914-1981) and Merle Barrus (1913-2007) and died 11 March 2010 City of Hope National Medical Center, Duarte, Los Angeles County, California, United States of mesothelioma cancer. He married Susan Wakley (1940) 30 March 1962 in Utah, United States.


Merlin Jay Olsen was an American football player, announcer, and actor. He played his entire 15-year professional football career in National Football League (NFL) as a defensive tackle with the Los Angeles Rams. He was selected to the Pro Bowl a record 14 straight times, missing selection only in the last year of his career. This record of 14 seasons selected to play in the Pro Bowl, consecutive or otherwise, is current and shared with former offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, former tight end Tony Gonzalez, and former quarterback Peyton Manning. A recipient of the 1961 Outland Trophy as the best lineman in college football, Olsen is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

Olsen enjoyed continued success after the NFL as a broadcaster, actor and businessman. As an actor, he portrayed farmer Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie. After leaving that series, he starred in his own NBC drama, Father Murphy.

Olsen was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Served as Grand Marshal of the 1983 Rose Parade.

Early Life

Born to Merle Barrus and Lynn Jay Olsen in Logan, Utah, the second of nine siblings and the first-born son, Olsen had three brothers and five sisters: Colleen, Clark, Lorraine, Gwen, Phil, Winona, Ramona, and Orrin.

College Football

Olsen attended Utah State University where he became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, and was a three-year letterman in football as a defensive tackle. He graduated from the College of Business and Social Sciences at USU with a bachelor's degree in Finance in 1962 and a master's degree in Economics in 1971. He later received an honorary doctorate degree in business from the Huntsman School.

In football, as a senior, he was a consensus All-American selection (making the vast majority of All-America teams) and was the winner of the Outland Trophy. After Olsen's junior year of 1960 he was also named All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and Newspaper Enterprise Association. He was also All-Conference in both 1960 and 1961. Olsen and Utah State were in the 1960 Sun Bowl, losing to New Mexico State, 20–13. Led by Olsen, the Aggie defense held the New Mexico State Aggies to just 44 rushing yards on 32 carries.

NFL Career


Olsen played professionally (from 1962 to 1976) for the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League. A leading defensive star of his era, he missed only two games in his 15-season NFL career. He was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 1962 and was First-team All-Pro in 1964, and 1966 through 1970. He was voted Second-team All-Pro in 1965, 1973 and 1974.

Olsen almost ended up on offense, but was later moved to the defensive line after a few experiments in practice. Soon he became part of one of the best front fours in NFL history. Deacon Jones, Rosey Grier, and Lamar Lundy joined Olsen on the defensive line in 1963 that was nicknamed "The Fearsome Foursome". He was named the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Week for week 12 in 1965. Olsen scored his first touchdown in that game.

Brother Orrin Olsen played one season with the Chiefs in 1976, which was notable because two of his brothers, Merlin and Phil, were also playing in the NFL at that time.

A Phi Beta Kappa at Utah State, Olsen (born 1940) placed a high value on education. During the off-season while playing for the Rams, he earned a master's degree in economics.

Marriage and Family

Merlin Olsen married fellow USU student Susan Wakley on March 30, 1962, and they had three children: Kelly, Jill, and Nathan, and four grandchildren.


Offspring of Merlin Olsen (74) and Susan Wakley (1940)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Kelly Olsen (1964)
Jill Olsen (1966)
Nathan Olsen (1968)


Notable Ancestors



Footnotes (including sources)