"The first question I asked was where is the training program," he said. "When I found out there was none, I began organizing my own."
"Merlin's own character was such that you adapted it to his [television] character," said Kent McCray, producer of "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy," a 1981-83 series that starred Olsen as a frontiersman disguised as a priest who was trying to help a group of orphans. "With Merlin, what you saw was what you got. In many instances, it was difficult for him to get mad. By nature, Merlin is not that way. It's impossible to think of him as one of the Fearsome Foursome."
Olsen's other television series included "Fathers and Sons" (1986) and "Aaron's Way" (1988). He spent two seasons broadcasting at CBS after NBC hired former San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh to replace him as the network's lead analyst.
Olsen also was a longtime commercial spokesman for FTD, the florist.
In December, he was honored at a St. Louis Rams game but was unable to attend. Earlier that month, Utah State announced plans to name its football field after Olsen.
Late last year, he sued NBC Studios and several other companies, alleging that longtime exposure to asbestos resulted in mesothelioma.
Olsen, who lived in Utah, is survived by his wife of nearly 48 years, Susan; his daughters, Kelly and Jill; his son, Nathan; and four grandchildren.
He is also survived by his siblings, sisters Colleen Davis, Lorraine Elzinga, Gwen Saltern and twins Winona Barrett and Ramona Whitaker, and brothers Clark, Phil and Orrin.
(Phil was a Rams teammate from 1971 to 1974, and Orrin also played in the NFL.)
Services will be private.
Times staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.