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Jerry Smith, Former Redskin, Dies at 43--Victim of AIDS

October 17, 1986|GEORGE SOLOMON | 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 Wednesday night at Holy Cross Hospital after fighting the disease AIDS for nearly a year.

Smith was 43. He recently was invited to be inducted into the Washington Hall of Stars at RFK Stadium before the Redskin game against Minnesota here Nov. 2.

He is the first professional athlete known to have died of AIDS-related complications, a disease that has claimed more than 13,000 lives in the United States since its discovery in 1981.

In a series of interviews in August, Smith went public with his illness.

He said at the time: "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 had contracted the disease.

AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, has afflicted mostly homosexual men in the United States.

Smith caught 421 passes for 5,496 yards and 60 touchdowns in a 13-year career for the Redskins, which started in 1965 and ended with his retirement after the 1977 season.

He came to the Redskins from Arizona State as a wide receiver but was quickly moved to tight end, where he excelled as a clutch receiver and capable blocker.

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

After retiring from professional football, he worked in the building business in the Washington area. Then he briefly owned a restaurant in Texas and, most recently, was in the mortgage banking business here.

In the recent interviews, Smith said that he began feeling tired in August 1985. But tests for AIDS at that time were negative.

The symptoms persisted, though, and last December further tests for AIDS were positive.

Since then, he has 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.

"I wanted to fight this thing," Smith had said, "but there wasn't much (the doctors) could do for me."

Laverne Smith said: "Jerry got wonderful support," referring to her son's friends, including several former teammates who often visited him in the hospital.

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