Charles White, the winner of the 1979 Heisman Trophy at USC who went on to a nine-year NFL career, died Wednesday, according to his alma mater. He was 64 years old.
No cause of death was provided by USC, but White was reported by the Los Angeles Times last July to be battling dementia.
White's enduring legacy came almost entirely from Los Angeles, where he was a four-year star at USC and much later a Pro Bowler with the Los Angeles Rams. He found early success with the Trojans, running for a school-record 858 yards as a freshman and leading the Pac-8 with 1,478 rushing yards as a sophomore.
His junior and senior seasons were even more successful. He was the centerpiece of USC's 1978 national championship team, then took home college football's highest honor in 1979 after rushing for 2,050 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The Heisman Trophy Trust mourns the loss of 1979 Heisman Trophy winner Charles White and shares its deepest condolences with his family and friends as well as the entire University of Southern California community. pic.twitter.com/dbpQPDYE6G
— The Heisman Trophy (@HeismanTrophy) January 12, 2023
White remains the Pac-12's all-time rushing yards leader with 6,245 yards and graduated as the NCAA's No. 2 all-time leading rusher. He remains fifth on the NCAA list if you count his bowl game performances.
After his highly successful college career, White was selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 27th overall pick in the 1980 NFL draft. His professional career would sadly see more downs than ups, as he never rushed for more than 350 yards in a season in his five years with the Browns.
Per the Times, White was already using marijuana and cocaine when he entered the NFL, but his drug use became a considerable problem during his time with the Browns, as did injuries. He was eventually released by the Browns in 1985 and landed back in Los Angeles with the Rams, where his former USC coach, John Robinson, had become head coach.
White's issues continued in L.A., and bottomed out in 1987 when he was found high on cocaine near the Rams' training complex and arrested on misdemeanor charges, per the Times. Robinson stuck by his old player, though, working out a deal with the NFL for White to continue his career while being frequently drug tested.
That faith was rewarded the following season, when White rushed for an NFL-best 1,374 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn his first and only career All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, plus the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
White's career lasted one more season after that. He was suspended four games in 1988 after testing positive for alcohol, violating his deal with the NFL, and ended up announcing his retirement the following offseason, having lost his starting position. He worked for USC in retirement as a special assistant to the athletic director, a running backs coach and an unspecified administrative job.
Per USC, White is survived by his ex-wife Judianne White-Basch and their children Nicole, Julian, Tara, Ashton and Sophia, as well as his granddaughter Giovanna Hemmen.