Larry Bethea

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Larry Bethea
Date of birth: (1956-07-21)July 21, 1956
Place of birth: Florence, South Carolina
Date of death: April 24, 1987(1987-04-24) (aged 30)
Place of death: Hampton, Virginia
Career information
Position(s): Defensive lineman
College: Michigan State
NFL Draft: 1978 / Round: 1 / Pick: 28
As player:
1978-1983 Dallas Cowboys
Career stats
Playing stats at

Larry Bethea (July 21, 1956 – April 24, 1987) was an American football defensive lineman who played six years in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys. He later played for the Michigan Panthers, Oakland Invaders and Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League. He played college football at Michigan State University.

He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound within hours of being identified as a suspect in two armed robberies.[1]

Early years[edit]

Bethea was a standout for Ferguson High School (Newport News, Virginia), playing both offensive end and defensive end. He was a Parade All-American and a Group AAA all-state in 1973.

He went on to play for Michigan State University, where he started at tight end as a freshman. During his sophomore season he was moved to defensive end where he excelled.

In 1976 he earned second-team Big Ten All-conference recognition.

In 1977 he was the first defensive player named Big Ten Conference MVP since Dick Butkus. He also earned first-team Big Ten All-conference honors and played in the East–West Shrine Game.

Bethea still holds the school records for career sacks (33) and sacks in a season (16).

Professional career[edit]

Dallas Cowboys[edit]

Looking for a successor to Ed "Too Tall" Jones who left football to start a professional boxing career, the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft.

Bethea played defensive end and defensive tackle for the Cowboys, but was waived at the end of the 1983 season, after six years of failing to become a starter and live up to his potential.


In 1984 he signed a free agent contract with the Michigan Panthers of the now-defunct United States Football League.

1985 was his final year playing professional football. He spent it with the Oakland Invaders and the Houston Gamblers, being released by both of those teams during the season.

Personal life[edit]

Bethea was rumored to have a drug abuse problem dating back to his college days, and cocaine addiction was blamed for the problems he had during his adult life.

His troubles with the law began in 1985 when he pleaded guilty to setting three fires in Mount Rainier National Park in Paradise Washington. He was ordered to pay $1,000 to the park to cover the cost of fighting the fires.

In 1986, he was jailed on charges of assaulting his wife and stealing his mother's life savings of $64,000. In 1987, he was given a suspended four-year prison term for stealing. The judge also ordered Bethea to serve two years on probation while repaying the money.

In the final incident, on April 24, 1987, police were called by an unidentified source who said the former football player had robbed two convenience stores. Bethea, 30, was later found in a friend's backyard with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right temple and a .38-caliber automatic pistol near his body. He was taken to Hampton General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:08 a.m. The gun used in the shooting and the two robberies was believed to be a weapon that was reported stolen from a parked vehicle in the city.


  1. ^ Bethea Apparent Suicide, AP Published: April 24, 1987 - New York Times

External links[edit]