Tab Thacker, an NCAA championship wrestler at North Carolina State University in the heavyweight division who appeared in two "Police Academy" films and other Hollywood movies, died Friday in Raleigh, N.C., after several years of declining health, the university announced. He was 45.
The 6-foot-4 Thacker, who once tipped the scale at almost 450 pounds, got his first movie role when Clint Eastwood saw his photograph in Time magazine and took note of Thacker's enormous frame, which helped the three-time All-American finish his senior season 31-0 at N.C. State in 1984.
Thacker was cast as a bouncer in "City Heat" -- a detective story set in the 1930s -- with Burt Reynolds and Eastwood, then as an underdog football player who made the climactic ending play in 1986's "Wildcats," starring Goldie Hawn. He was a cast member in two "Police Academy" films and later appeared in "Identity Crisis."
Thacker won the NCAA heavyweight championship in 1984 and earned four Atlantic Coast Conference titles. He finished his college career 92-11-1, ranking second in N.C. State history with a 0.889 winning percentage and 54 pins, according to the university.
"He was a great kid," former N.C. State wrestling coach Bob Guzzo said Friday. "People said he won because he was bigger than everyone else. . . . People didn't realize how light on his feet he was. He played basketball all the time, and he was a really good basketball player. He was also incredibly strong."
In 1984 the NCAA changed its rules and instituted a maximum weight limit of 275 pounds for heavyweights, and the international amateur wrestling body soon fixed a similar cap, effectively eliminating Thacker and others his size from competition.
When Thacker left the film industry, he returned to Raleigh and opened several nightclubs and a remodeling business. A criminal justice major in college, he later became a bail bondsman.
Talmadge Thacker was born in North Carolina in 1962 to a father who weighed 300 pounds and a mother who topped 200 pounds. He had two brothers who weighed more than 200 pounds. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, Thacker joked that his size was due to having eaten a bottle of vitamins as a boy.
Thacker developed diabetes several years ago and had a foot amputated, and he lost his legs in recent months, according to the university.
"Sure, my body is big, but my heart is bigger," Thacker said in 1984. "I have a 400-pound body and a 500-pound heart."
Survivors include his wife, Sharon, and three children.