Fred Thompson, a former United States Senator who acted in TV and films, died Sunday at the age of 73 after a recurrence of lymphoma, his family said in a statement to the Associated Press.
“It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of grief that we share the passing of our brother, father and grandfather who died peacefully in Nashville,” it said. “Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of … his home.”
During his acting career, Thompson appeared in a number of movies, television shows and commercials. He had a regular role on the hit TV show “Law & Order,” playing Manhattan district attorney Arthur Branch on the long-running NBC series for five seasons before leaving to run for President in 2008.
In 1985, Thompson got his start in Hollywood when the then-lawyer was asked to play himself in the movie “Marie,” which was based on the life of whistle-blower Marie Ragghianti, whom Thompson had defended. Thompson’s films include 1987’s “No Way Out” starring Kevin Costner, the 1990 Tom Cruise vehicle “Days of Thunder,” 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October” and 1993’s “In the Line of Fire,” starring Clint Eastwood.
Thompson was a commanding presence, standing 6-foot-6 with a booming voice and folksy demeanor. A 1994 New York Times profile said that “when Hollywood directors need someone who can personify governmental power, they often turn to [Thompson].”
Thompson also portrayed a fictional President of the United States in “Last Best Chance,” as well as two historical presidents in TV projects: Ulysses S. Grant in “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (2007) and the voice of Andrew Jackson in “Rachel and Andrew Jackson: A Love Story.”
“He was always a joy to work with,” said Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal in a tweet Sunday afternoon, recalling that his “honesty, wisdom and humor” were uncommon.
Thompson represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2003 and served as a counselor in the 1973 Watergate investigation.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican who succeeded Thompson as a Tennessee Senator, issued a statement shortly after his death was announced:
“Very few people can light up the room the way Fred Thompson did. He used his magic as a lawyer, actor, Watergate counsel, and United States senator to become one of our country’s most principled and effective public servants. He was my friend for nearly fifty years. I will miss him greatly. Honey and I and our entire family send our love and sympathy to Jeri and the Thompson family.”
Fred Thompson as DA Arthur Branch on the long-running NBC series “Law & Order.”