Tunch Ilkin, a Turkish-born, two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers who went on to become a beloved member of the organization's broadcast team, has died. He was 63.
The Steelers confirmed Ilkin's passing on Saturday. Ilkin, who revealed last fall he was fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease), was hospitalized recently with pneumonia.
Ilkin announced in July that he was stepping away from his radio analyst duties to focus on his treatment.
The popular Ilkin was a fixture on the Steelers' offensive line after being taken in the sixth round of the 1980 draft. He played 13 of his 14 seasons in the NFL in Pittsburgh, making the Pro Bowl in 1988 and 1989 as an athletic right tackle under Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll. He appeared in 176 games for the Steelers, making 143 starts.
He played one game for the Green Bay Packers in 1993 before retiring and moving into broadcasting. Ilkin spent 23 seasons in all as part of Pittsburgh's radio team and became well-known throughout southwestern Pennsylvania for his charitable efforts for a variety of causes.
“We are heartbroken by the passing of Tunch Ilkin,” Steelers owner Art Rooney II said in a statement. “He was a man of faith who dedicated his entire life to being a devout Christian and family man. His passion for the game of football was evident in his everyday life.”
Ilkin's influence during his post-playing days extended far beyond the field. He worked with a variety of causes, including the Light of Life Rescue Mission, which focuses on helping those battling homelessness and addiction. He and good friend and former teammate Craig Wolfley held an annual fundraiser for the mission, just one of several philanthropic ventures for Ilkin.
“His efforts and dedication to the Light of Life was unparalleled, and his desire to always help others made everyone appreciate him,” Rooney said. “He was loved by his family, teammates, and friends. We were fortunate to have Tunch as a player and broadcaster for so many years. Our condolences to his entire family during this difficult time.”
Ilkin was a fixture at the team's training facility during the season, filtering in and out of the locker room to talk to players. His energy and enthusiasm for the organization and the game was infectious.
“Today we lost a heck of a person but God gained an unbelievable angel,” current Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward posted on Instagram. “Your love, faith, candor, and strength will be remembered forever. I’m lucky enough to have talked and got to know you. May you be at peace brother.”
Ilkin is survived by his wife, Karen, and children Tanner, Natalie and Clay from his marriage to his first wife Sharon, who died in 2012 following a battle with breast cancer.
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