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Bowling great Carter dies at 85

MIAMI — Don Carter, the bowling great with the unorthodox style who flourished as a genuine sports celebrity during the game's golden age on TV, has died. He was 85.

Carter died at his home in Miami on Thursday night, the Professional Bowlers Association said Friday. He recently was hospitalized with pneumonia complicated by emphysema.

Carter, known as "Mr. Bowling," was the game's original superstar. He became his sport's most recognizable name at a time when alleys were thriving across the country and bowling was starting to assert itself as a fixture on television. Carter was a leading force in the formation of the PBA in 1958 and became a charter member of the PBA Hall of Fame in 1975.

Medford's Lava Lanes hosted a PBA event for nearly a decade, and it was to be changed to the Don and Paula Carter Mixed Doubles Tournament before it was canceled in late 2009.

Carter had a style all his own as he took his steps to the line. With his stooped shoulders and cocked elbow, he made a deep knee bend as he unleashed the ball as if pushing it toward the pins.

Carter helped transform a sport that had been a blue-collar recreational activity. He ruled the lanes with the likes of Dick Weber, Ray Bluth, Pat Patterson, Carmen Salvino and Billy Welu. But Carter was clearly at another level. His name might not cast quite the light as such sports luminaries then as Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas or Arnold Palmer, but it was close.

"Don was the greatest bowler of his era," Bluth said. "There was no one like him."

He also did something that no one in baseball, football or golf ever did. He became the first athlete in American sports history to sign a $1 million marketing endorsement contract, with bowling ball manufacturer Ebonite in 1964.

"It is impossible to put into words what Don Carter meant to the PBA and the sport of bowling," PBA Commissioner Tom Clark said. "He was a pioneer, a champion and will never be forgotten."

The 6-foot, 200-pound Carter bowled five 800 series, 13 perfect games and six 299s in sanctioned play. He practically held a monopoly on bowling honors. He was voted Bowler of the Year six times (1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1962).

He served as the PBA's first president. He was inducted into the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in 1970. Carter was selected as the greatest bowler in history in a 1970 Bowling Magazine poll. He ranked second to Earl Anthony in the magazine's poll in 2000 of the 20 greatest bowlers of the 20th century.