Born in Delphi, Indiana, Afflis grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, graduating from Lafayette Jeff High school where he played football and wrestled. Afflis played varsity football at Purdue University and played for the Green Bay Packers in the early 1950s, as a lineman, before he became a pro wrestler. In the late '50s, Dick the Bruiser wrestled live every Thursday on TV in the Detroit area. His typical opponent was "an up and coming young (unknown) wrestler" who would be pulverized by the Bruiser. His matches and interviews were so effective he became a household name in the Detroit area. His only defeat on live TV was at the hands of Cowboy Bob Ellis. However, in two rematches with Ellis at the Olympia in Detroit, the Bruiser was victorious. Afflis, along with fellow wrestler and business partner Wilbur Snyder, purchased the Indianapolis NWA promotion in 1964 from its longtime owner Jim Barnett. Afflis renamed the territory the World Wrestling Association (WWA) and promoted himself as its champion. While he ran it as an independent promotion with its own titles and champion, the WWA had a working agreement with the larger AWA (owned by wrestler Verne Gagne), sharing talent and recognizing their championships. This agreement benefited both promotions and led to the Bruiser having multiple AWA Tag-Team Title reigns, primarily with tag team partner, The Crusher, who was billed as his "cousin". The Bruiser was the first to christen Manager Bobby Heenan with the nickname of "The Weasel" during his run in the territory. Afflis' WWA ran from 1964 until 1989, when Afflis finally tired of losing talent, TV, and fan attendance to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
Afflis, with his charisma, NFL notoriety, and gravelly-voiced, tough-guy persona was a legitimate cross-media star, becoming something of a hero in the Indianapolis area. Indianapolis native David Letterman would later name his television show's band "The World's Most Dangerous Band" as a derivation of Dick the Bruiser's nickname, "The World's Most Dangerous Wrestler." The moniker "Dick the Bruiser" was even used in the 1980s by George Baier, a co-host of the morning drive show on Detroit rock radio station WLLZ-FM. Baier's "Richard T. Bruiser" was an effective, entertaining impersonation of Afflis, who actually played himself in a number of popular TV ads for WLLZ.
After retiring, Afflis worked as a talent agent for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Afflis died of internal bleeding on November 10 1991, according to a spokesman for Suncoast Hospital in Largo, Fla., near his winter home. His widow, Louise, said her husband had been weight-lifting at home and ruptured a blood vessel in his esophagus.