Bear Bryant died of a heart attack yesterday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., only 37 days after he had retired as head football coach at the University of Alabama with the most victories in college football history.
Mr. Bryant, who was 69 years old, entered the Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night, complaining of chest pains. Dr. William Hill, the attending physician, said that Mr. Bryant had suffered a massive heart attack at 1:24 P.M. while undergoing X-rays.
''We did put a pacemaker through his chest and were able to restore a weak heartbeat,'' for about an hour, Dr. Hill said. Mr. Bryant was declared dead at 2:30 P.M.
Dr. Hill said Mr. Bryant had been in ''very good spirits,'' early yesterday. ''In the morning, he even joked about going to Las Vegas,'' the doctor said. ''And he said one thing he wanted to do was go back home to Arkansas and do some duck hunting.''
Mr. Bryant created national headlines only a month ago when he ended his 38-year career as the most successful football coach on any American campus, and one of the most colorful. He quit with a record of 323 victories, 85 losses and 17 ties at four schools: Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M and, for the last 25 years, at his alma mater, Alabama. Six of his teams at Alabama were rated No.1 nationally by the wire-service polls. And, when Alabama defeated Auburn, 28-17, on Nov. 28, 1981, for his 315th victory, he surpassed the record that had been set early in the century by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Impact on Sport Assured
But, despite his decision to retire, his impact on the university was expected to continue because of two other decisions: He remained as athletic director, and his job as coach was assigned to one of his former players, Ray Perkins, who resigned as coach of the Giants to return to Alabama.
Mr. Bryant's impact on football everywhere was assured through the scores of men who had played or coached under ''the Bear.'' In his time, he developed star quarterbacks such as Joe Namath, George Blanda, Babe Parilli, Ken Stabler, Steve Sloan and Richard Todd, now the quarterback of the New York Jets. More than 40 of his former players became head college coaches, including Jerry Claiborne at Kentucky, Howard Schnellenberger at Miami, Jackie Sherrill at Texas A&M, Pat Dye at Auburn and Sloan at Duke.
He also became instrumental in recruiting black athletes for Alabama. His first black player was Wilbur Jackson, a running back, in 1971. In his final season, 54 of the 128 football players at Alabama were black. Later, he remembered that he had wanted to recruit black football players at Kentucky, and said:
''They wouldn't let me. Then, at Alabama all those years, my hands were tied. To tell you the truth, Sam Cunningham did more for integration at Alabama than anybody else. He was a black running back for Southern Cal. Came down here in 1970 and ran all over my skinny little white boys. Scored three touchdowns.'' Last Game in Liberty Bowl
Two weeks after he announced his retirement as coach, the Bryant era ended on Dec. 29 when Alabama defeated Illinois in the Liberty Bowl, 21-15. It was the eighth victory of the season for Alabama after four defeats, the first time in 13 years the team had lost as many as four games. It was also his 29th bowl game, a record for a coach that included 24 straight at Alabama, and the last appearance in a stadium for the craggy-faced figure roaming the sidelines in the houndstooth hat.
Paul William Bryant was born Sept. 11, 1913, in Moro Bottom, Ark., which he described as ''a little piece of bottom land on the Moro Creek, about seven miles fourth of Fordyce.'' He was one of 11 children in a poor family, and he remembered that he had an inferiority complex and ''wasn't very smart in school, and lazy to boot.''
But he was big, eventually growing to 6 feet 4 inches. And he recalled that he acquired his nickname as a teen-ager in high school when he accepted a dare to wrestle a bear. How He Won His Nickname
''It was outside the Lyric Theater,'' he said. ''There was a poster out front with a picture of a bear, and a guy was offering a dollar a minute to anyone who would wrestle the bear. The guy who was supposed to wrestle the bear didn't show up, so they egged me on. They let me and my friends into the picture show free, and I wrestled this scrawny bear to the floor. I went around later to get my money, but the guy with the bear had flown the coop. All I got out of the whole thing was a nickname.''
As a strapping and aggressive tackle on the Fordyce High School football team, Mr. Bryant lived up to his nickname by winning allstate honors. Then he was recruited for the University of Alabama by Hank Crisp, an assistant to Frank Thomas, and played right end. His principal assignment, he remembered, was doing the blocking while Don Hutson, the left end, was the star pass receiver who later was elected to the college football hall of fame. But they thrived, winning 23 games and losing only 3, and they defeated Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl game, 29-13.
After his class had graduated, Mr. Bryant stayed at Alabama as an assistant coach. Four years later, he switched to Vanderbilt as an assistant to Red Sanders. But two years after that, in 1941, he joined the Navy and served in World War II, part of the time as a football coach at the preflight school in North Carolina. He was discharged in 1945, in time to become head coach at Maryland, where he opened his long and sometimes stormy career. An Instant Success
He was an instant success, partly because he had taken the precaution of bringing along several good players from the Navy preflight team. In his first game, Maryland whipped Guilford College, 60-6. That first season, Maryland won six games, lost two and tied one.
But he also was an instant center of controversy. He suspended a player for breaking training rules, was overruled by the school's president and promptly quit and took over as coach at Kentucky.
He stayed eight seasons, and his teams won 60 games and lost 23, appeared in four postseason games and won the school's only Southeastern Conference championship. The highlight was a 13-7 victory over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl in 1950 that broke a 31-game winning streak for Oklahoma.
After he left in 1954, he conceded that one problem had been a conflict of personalities with Adolph Rupp, the highly successful basketball coach. Conflict With Rupp
''The trouble,'' he said, ''was that we were too much alike. He wanted basketball to be No.1, and I wanted football No.1. In an environment like that, one or the other has to go.''
The next stop was Texas A&M, where Mr. Bryant stayed four seasons with a record of 25 victories and 14 defeats, and a Southwestern Conference title in 1956. He also developed John David Crow, a running back who won the Heisman Trophy as the nation's best player.But more controversy arose when the school was placed on probation for violating the rules on recruiting players, and Mr. Bryant acknowledged later that some of his players had been paid, though not by him.
Finally, he went ''home'' in 1958 to his alma mater, Alabama. ''It was like when you were out in the field, and you heard your mama calling you to dinner,'' he said, explaining his joy at returning. ''Mama called.'' Team Ranked No.1 in '61
Alabama had won only four football games in three years. But in his first season, the Crimson Tide won five games and lost four. And in 1961, he received his first No.1 ranking nationally. For the rest of his career, his teams averaged 8.5 victories a year and did not suffer a losing season.
Controversy followed him home, however. An article in The Saturday Evening Post said that he and Wally Butts, the coach at Georgia, had arranged to fix the result of a game in 1962. Alabama won the game, 35-0. Mr. Butts won a libel suit against the publisher, and Mr. Bryant won a substantial out-of-court settlement.
Although he acknowledged an obsession for winning, he was a forbidding figure when it came to training rules. Not even Namath escaped his discipline. In 1964, he removed Namath as quarterback for breaking training and kept him on the sidelines during the Sugar Bowl game. At other times, he also disciplined Lee Roy Jordan, Scott Hunter, John Hannah, Stabler, Sloan and even Perkins, the man who succeeded him as head coach. The View From the Tower
Mr. Bryant was a tireless worker who customarily rose at 5 A.M. and did not stop until late in the evening. He often supervised practice sessions from a tower overlooking two fields, one covered with grass, the other with artificial turf. One of his quarterbacks, Steadman Shealy, once said: ''There's something about him up in that tower that makes you want to run through a wall.''
He was married to his college sweetheart, Mary Harmon Black, who had been a campus beauty queen when he played football at Alabama. They had two children, Paul William Jr. and May Martin Tyson, and four grandchildren.
Mr. Bryant's stature at Alabama was so great that his salary became something of a protocol problem. Eventually, it reached $120,000. But, for years, the university made an effort to keep the football coach's salary below that of the school's president. The president made $100,000 a year; Mr. Bryant was paid $99,999.99.
Mr. Bryant's funeral will be Friday, with members of his 1982 team serving as honorary pallbearers. He will be buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Ala., following a 10 A.M. memorial ceremony at First Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa.
The world of football reacted with shock and sadness to the news of Bear Bryant's death.