Billy Dee Williams paid tribute to his late friend, NFL legend Gale Sayers, following his death at 77.
The 83-year-old actor, who played Sayers in the 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song, shared a photo of his real-life friend of 50 years to Instagram. In the vintage pic, the two men posed side by side on a football field as Williams wore the Bears legend’s uniform for a scene from the classic movie.
In the caption to the photo, Williams wrote he is heartbroken over the loss of his dear friend. The actor, who is best known for his 1970s roles with Diana Ross (Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogany) and his recurring stint as Lando Calrissian in the Stars Wars franchise, noted that portraying Sayers in the telefilm was one of the “highlights” in his long career. He described the late football star as “extraordinary” and kind.
In the comments section to the post, which can be seen below, Williams’ followers offered condolences to him and to the Sayers family. Many posted broken heart emoji as the mourned the loss of the legendary Hall of Famer.
“Talked about Brian’s Song with my friends in school constantly that year,” one follower wrote of the photo.
“Got in trouble with the nuns. It was worth it.”
“Gale Sayers played in the NFL before I was born,” another wrote to Williams.
“There are two people who are responsible for bringing Gale Sayers into my life during my youth: my dad and you. Thank you.”
Brian’s Song was an ABC Movie of the Week that centered on the Bears player Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan) and his battle with terminal cancer. The heartbreaking story was told by his teammate Sayers (Williams) and was based on the athlete’s 1970 autobiography, I Am Third. The Emmy-nominated film about the two men and their extraordinary friendship was the first high-profile acting role for Williams, and it is regarded as one of the greatest TV movies of all time.
Last year, Williams told Esquire that playing Sayers on-screen in the tearjerker was one of his proudest moments as an actor.
“It was a love story, really,” Williams said of the film that earned him an Emmy nod.
“It ended up being a kind of breakthrough in terms of racial division.”
Sayers, the youngest player ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died September 23 after suffering years of health issues that included dementia, per The Chicago Tribune.