His death, at an assisted-living center, was announced by the Bills, who said he had cancer.
When he was playing in the Canadian Football League in the 1950s, Gilchrist owned a company that installed industrial lighting and trumpeted it with trucks emblazoned “Lookie, Lookie, Here Comes Cookie.”
He was hardly likely to go unnoticed.
At 6 feet 3 inches and 250 pounds or so, Gilchrist was an uncommonly awesome running back for his era, and he was an outspoken figure off the field. He was often involved in contract disputes with management, and he helped lead a boycott threat by black players over discriminatory treatment in New Orleans when they arrived there for the A.F.L. All-Star Game after the 1964 season, forcing the league to transfer the game to Houston.
Joining the Bills in 1962, the A.F.L.’s third season, Gilchrist ran for in 14 games and was named the league’s player of the year. He set a professional football single-game rushing record, since broken, when he ran for 243 yards and 5 touchdowns against in December 1963.
Gilchrist led the A.F.L. in rushing again in 1964, his final season with the Bills, when he helped take them to the league championship. He was named All-Pro every season from 1962 to 1965.
“Whoever’d run up, he’d run at him and then run over him,” his former Bills teammate Booker Edgerson, a defensive back, told Jeff Miller in a history of the A.F.L. “A lot of guys said, ‘Why don’t you sidestep and run around?’ He said: ‘I want to teach them a lesson. If I run over ’em, they won’t come up anymore.’ ”
Carlton Chester Gilchrist was born in Brackenridge, Pa., on May 25, 1935, and was nicknamed Cookie as a child. After high school, he played in Canada, starring for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Toronto Argonauts before joining the Bills.
He is survived by two sons, Jeffery and Scott, and a daughter, Christina Gilchrist, all of Toronto, and two grandchildren.
Gilchrist was among the A.F.L. players who were refused service by restaurants, nightclubs and taxis while preparing for the All-Star Game in New Orleans after the 1964 season. He was a leading voice among players whose boycott threat caused the shift to Houston.
“He came to maturity at a time that coincided with the civil rights movement,” the former Bills quarterback told Mr. Miller for his A.F.L. history. “And Cookie was a very proud guy. He didn’t take any guff from anybody.”
After three seasons with the Bills, Gilchrist had two stints with the and also played for the . He retired after the 1967 season, having run for 37 touchdowns and 4,293 yards.
In 1983, when he was nominated for induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, he turned the honor down over his feelings that he had faced racism.
“Cookie was the Jim Brown of the American Football League; he was the icon of the league,” Edgerson told The New York Times in 1994. “But the biggest thing about Cookie is that Cookie did not take any mess off of anyone. That’s his legacy.”