Former Senator, Actor Fred Thompson Dead at 73


Former Tennessee senator, GOP presidential candidate, actor and attorney Fred Thompson died on Sunday. He was 73.

Thompson died of complications from a recurrence of lymphoma, according to a statement released by his family.

“It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of grief that we share the passing of our brother, husband, father, and grandfather who died peacefully in Nashville surrounded by his family,” Thompson’s family said in the statement.

“Fred once said that the experiences he had growing up in small-town Tennessee formed the prism through which he viewed the world and shaped the way he dealt with life.  Fred stood on principle and common sense, and had a deep love for and connection with the people across Tennessee whom he had the privilege to serve in the United States Senate.  He enjoyed a hearty laugh, a strong handshake, a good cigar, and a healthy dose of humility.  Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of Lawrenceburg, his home.

Thompson served as Republican Senator from Tennessee for nine years between 1994 and 2003. While in the Senate, Thompson briefly served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and also served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Finance Committee and the National Security Working Group. He later served as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board at the State Department.

Thompson began working as a U.S. attorney in the late 6os and quickly got into politics by becoming the campaign manager for Republican Senator Howard Baker’s 1972 reelection campaign. The following year, Thompson was appointed minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee and played a pivotal role in its investigation of the Watergate scandal and the subsequent resignation of President Richard Nixon.

In 1977, Thompson represented Tennessee Parole Board administrator Marie Ragghianti in an infamous corruption case against then-Tennessee Governor Ray Blanton that led to Blanton’s removal from office.

Thompson got his start in acting in 1985, when he played himself in a film about the Ragghianti case titled Marie. Director Roger Donaldson subsequently cast Thompson in his next project, the 1987 crime actioner No Way Out, and Thompson continued to work as an actor throughout the 90s with roles in films like Die Hard II and The Hunt for Red October as well as in small roles for television shows like Matlock and China Beach.

Thompson’s acting career took off in earnest during the final months of his Senate term in 2002, when he signed on to play District Attorney Arthur Branch in the hit television series Law and Order. Thompson would go on to play Branch for five seasons of the show’s run and also appeared as the character in the spinoffs Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and Law and Order: Trial by Jury.

Thompson continued to work in film and television over the last decade, with roles in the 2007 Disney film Secretariat, the CBS TV series The Good Wife and the NBC series Allegiance. He also had a small role in this year’s faith-based film 90 Minutes in Heaven.

Between 2006 and 2007, Thompson briefly served as a senior analyst and on-air host for ABC News Radio.

In 2007, Thompson took a hiatus from acting to run for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. In the lead-up to his announcement, conservative icon Andrew Breitbart secured a video interview with Thompson that became one of the first pieces of exclusive content for the newly-launched website. Breitbart called Thompson’s use of the online medium “brilliant.”

Thompson ultimately dropped out of the presidential race in January 2008 after failing to gain traction among early-state primary voters.

Freddie Dalton Thompson was born on August 19, 1942 in Sheffield, Alabama. He graduated from Lawrence County High School in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and became the first member of his family to attend college when he enrolled in Florence State College (now the University of North Alabama). He later earned undergraduate degrees in philosophy and political science from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) and went on to earn a law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1967.

Thompson married Sarah Elizabeth Lindsey in 1959, at the age of 17. The couple had three children and divorced in 1985. In 1996, Thompson began dating political commentator and radio host Jeri Kehn, and had two more children, daughter Hayden and son Samuel. In 2002, Thompson’s daughter from his first marriage, Elizabeth “Betsy” Thompson Panici died of an accidental prescription drug overdose.

Thompson is survived by his wife, four children and five grandchildren.