Just three months after announcing his retirement from broadcasting, former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Tunch Ilkin died on Saturday morning at the age of 63. The news was first reported by KDKA, the CBS television affiliate in Pittsburgh.
Ilkin had been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He announced that he had ALS in October 2020, news that prompted an outpouring of support from the Steelers community and his media family.
Tunch Ilkin’s Distinguished Steelers Career, On and Off the Field
Tunch Ilkin came to the Steelers in 1980, drafted in the sixth-round out of Indiana State just months after the organization won its fourth Super Bowl title. He played offensive tackle for the team for 12 seasons, starting 143 of 176 games while making the Pro Bowl twice (in 1988 and ’89). He went on to appear in one game for the Green Bay Packers in 1993, but his heart remained in Pittsburgh.
After his playing career came to a close, Ilkin transitioned into broadcasting and became a part of the Steelers radio team in 1998. After legendary Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope retired in 2005, Ilkin shared the booth with Bill Hillgrove, serving as color analyst through the end of last season.
Ilkin’s Battle with ALS
Ilkin originally announced that he had ALS in a 28-minute video posted to the Twitter account of The Bible Chapel, a non-denominational church with locations in the Pittsburgh area and also in Florida.
Shortly after revealing the news to Bible Chapel senior pastor Ron Moore, he said: “I want to fight this thing …with the help of God…. I’m not going to lie down and take this lightly.” He went on to describe the steps he was taking to fight ALS, which is a progressive nervous system disease that affects control of the muscles needed to move, speak and breathe.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common cause of death for victims of ALS is respiratory failure and, on average, death occurs within three to five years of the onset of symptoms.
In June he indicated that part of his treatment regimen involved working out using an underwater treadmill at Adventures in Training with a Purpose, a Wexford, Pa. facility operated by former teammate Jon Kolb, who played left tackle for the Steelers between 1969-81.
Kolb and Ilkin are two of the four former players who will be added to the organization’s Ring of Honor during halftime of the team’s home game against the Detroit Lions on November 14. (The other two are wide receiver Louis Lipps and safety/cornerback Carnell Lake, both of whom started their Steelers careers in the 1980s.)
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Ilkin’s first wife Sharon died in Feb. 2012 at the age of 55 after a battle with breast cancer. He is survived by his second wife, Karen, as well as three children.
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