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Ex-Redskin Jerry Smith First Pro to Die of AIDS : AIDS Takes Life of Jerry Smith, Ex-Redskin, at 43

October 16, 1986|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Jerry Smith, one of the leading pass receivers in the National Football League during his 13 seasons with the Washington Redskins, died of AIDS Wednesday night at Holy Cross Hospital after fighting the disease for nearly a year.

Smith, 43, who went public with his illness last August, is the first professional athlete known to have died from AIDS-related complications, a disease which has claimed more than 13,000 lives in the United States since its discovery in 1981.

In a series of interviews at the time he disclosed the illness, Smith said: "I want people to know what I have been through and how terrible this disease is. Maybe it will help people understand and maybe it will help research. Maybe something positive will come out of this."

He refused to discuss his life style or explain how he contracted the disease.

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a disease that has been most prevalent among homosexual men and intravenous drug users. It debilitates the body's immune system.

Smith caught 421 passes for 5,496 yards and 60 touchdowns in a 13-year career for the Redskins, which started in 1966 and ended with his retirement after the 1977 season. He was among the top 10 pass receivers in the league for four consecutive seasons, from 1966 to '69.

Smith, who was 6 feet 3, weighed about 210 pounds much of his career. When he died, he weighed about 140 pounds.

Since last December he had been in and out of George Washington University and Holy Cross hospitals.

He had been unable to eat solid foods since June, according to his mother, Laverne, and was sustained intravenously.

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