Fred Thompson, Former U.S. Senator and Actor, Dies at 73

Fred Thompson

The former 'Law & Order' actor died in Nashville after a recurrence of lymphoma.

NASHVILLE (AP) — Fred Thompson, a Republican U.S. senator for eight years who also acted in feature films and on television, died Sunday, his family says in a statement. He was 73.

The statement says he died in Nashville after a recurrence of lymphoma. It added he was surrounded by his family.

"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," the statement added. "Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of ... his home."

Thompson, a lawyer, alternated between politics and acting much of his adult life. Once regarded as a rising star in the Senate, he retired from the seat when his term expired in January 2003, saying he didn't "have the heart" for another term.

He was most widely recognized for his portrayal of D.A. Arthur Branch on the various Law & Order series, playing on them from 2002-07, before resigning to seek the Republican presidential nomination.

He played in several movies, usually playing gruff, powerful figures, including: Die Hard II, The Hunt for Red October, Days of Thunder, Thunderheart, In the Line of Fire, Cape Fear and Born Yesterday among them. 

In the Senate, he held a number of high-ranking posts, including service on the Senate Finance Committee and the Government Affairs Committee. He was plain-spoken and an independent thinker: Along with John McCain, he was the only Republican to vote for the Feingold-McClain campaign reform bill.

In 1973, he served as the minority counsel on the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign activities, which was investigating the Watergate Scandal. It became to be known as the Ervin Committee afar its chairman Sam Ervin.

Entering politics, he ran Sen. Howard Baker's re-election campaign in 1972 and served as a lobbyist intermittently from 1975-93, representing among various entities, including Westinghouse.

Baker went on to serve on the Select Committee on the Watergate scandal. He appointed Thompson as the committee's minority counsel. He became a familiar figure on TV, asking the question that produced the revelation that an extensive taping system had been installed in the White House.

Thompson wrote a memoir of his Watergate experience: At That Point in Time: The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee, which was published in 1975.

A lawyer, Thompson got his acting start by circumstance. During his early law career, he worked on a case that was written up as a book and made into a movie, Marie (1985), starring Sissy Spacek. Thompson appeared as himself. He received a strong notice in Time as "refreshingly human." His performance as himself in Marie opened the doors to a second career. He next appeared in No Way Out, playing the C.I.A. director. 

He announced a bid for president in 2007 but dropped out in 2008 after faring poorly. After his presidential run, he returned to acting in 2009 with a guest-star appearance on Life on Mars, playing the NYPD police chief.

During his acting career he also performed on such TV shows as Wiseguy, Roseanne, Matlock, Sex & the City, and The Good Wife. He played in several TV movies, including Barbarians at the Gate.

He co-hosted The Fred Thompson Show on Westwood One with his wife Jeri.

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