N.C. State Wrestling Champ, 'Police Academy' Actor Dies
Posted December 28, 2007 10:45 p.m. EST
Updated January 2, 2008 10:47 a.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — Tab Thacker, an NCAA championship wrestler who appeared in two "Police Academy" films and other Hollywood movies, has died after a long illness complicated by diabetes, according to North Carolina State University. He was 45.
"He was like a teddy bear, a giant teddy bear," friend Annette Etheridge said Friday, shortly after his death.
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 North Carolina State.
Thacker was cast as a bouncer in the 1930s-era "City Heat" with Burt Reynolds and Eastwood, then played an underdog football player who made the climactic ending play in 1984's "Wildcats," starring Goldie Hawn. He was a cast member in two "Police Academy" films and later appeared in 1990's "Identity Crisis."
Before acting, 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 North Carolina State history with an .889 winning percentage and 54 pins, according to the university.
Thacker also once defeated the Russian heavyweight champion during his international debut.
"People said he won because he was bigger than everyone else," said Bob Guzzo, who coached Thacker at North Carolina State. "People didn't realize how light on his feet he was. ... He was also incredibly strong."
Thacker also was a standout wrestler at his Winston-Salem high school as a 311-pound freshman. He jokingly attributed his weight to having eaten a bottle of vitamins as a boy.
After his Hollywood stint, Thacker returned to Raleigh and opened a remodeling business and Heavyweight Bail Bonds.
He is survived by his three children Tahj, Raven and T.J.
Visitation for Thacker will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 2 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Lea Funeral Home off Poole Road in Raleigh.
His funeral will be Thursday, Jan. 3 at Springfield Baptist Church off Auburn-Knightdale Road.
Thacker will be buried in Winston Salem.