Fred Ward, ‘The Right Stuff’ and ‘True Detective’ Actor, Dies at 79

The ‘Tremors’ star was a prolific film and TV character actor

Fred Ward (Getty Images)
Getty Images

Fred Ward, the prolific character actor with starring roles in “Tremors,” “The Right Stuff” and the second season of “True Detective,” has died, according to his publicist. He was 79.

Ward died Monday, publicist Ron Hofmann confirmed to TheWrap. No cause of death was given.

Though Ward may never have been quite a household name, his chiseled face would be highly familiar to any household that watched movies or television in the 1980s and 1990s. He made his film debut in 1979’s “Escape from Alcatraz” with Clint Eastwood, played Gus Grissom in “The Right Stuff” (1983), and had a starring role opposite Kevin Bacon in the 1990 cult classic “Tremors.”

The depths of Ward’s everyman gruffness came from life experience: Before his first screen role in the early 1970s, he spent three years in the Air Force, later working in Alaska as a short-order cook, a boxer and a lumberjack. He then studied acting in Rome, learning to mime and do voices before returning to the U.S.

As a former Airman, Ward surely felt right at home on the set of “The Right Stuff,” the role that would ignite his acting career. His version of the crew-cut Virgil “Gus” Grissom was a vehicle for many of the film’s best lines, and led to a long, diverse, and artistically unpredictable Hollywood run.

He memorably played writer Henry Miller in “Henry & June,” and stayed constantly busy through the ’90s and Aughts in film and television with a mix of military men, sensitive fathers, dashing doctors, and semi-villains (like Eddie Velcoro’s father in HBO’s “True Detective” Season 2.)

Ward shares a special ensemble Golden Globe for the 1993 Robert Altman film “Short Cuts,” which also won an ensemble award that year at the Venice Film Festival.

Ward is survived by his wife of 27 years, Marie-France Ward, and his son Django Ward from his first marriage.