Hollywood Remembers SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard: George Clooney, Alec Baldwin React

Howard is remembered by friends and colleagues as a generous actor and an effective union leader.
Ken Howard  David Livingston/Getty Images

Ken Howard, a popular character actor on the stage and screen — he won a Tony in 1970 for Child's Play and recently appeared on the TV series 30 Rock and in the films The Judge and Joydied on Wednesday at the age of 71. He was the sitting president of SAG-AFTRA, the largest union of actors, and appeared on the 22nd SAG Awards in January. Howard's cause of death has not been disclosed, but he was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer in 2007 and was recently hospitalized with a case of shingles.

Here, friends and colleagues from the show business community share remembrances of Howard.

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George Clooney

"There’s a story about how a young actor met Ken on the Fox lot in 1983 and told him what a fan he was of The White Shadow. Ken asked that actor what he did and the young man said, 'Well, someday I hope to be lucky enough to work with you.' Then he told Ken he had an audition all the way across town at Paramount, but he wasn't going to make it because all he had was a bike. So Ken put his bike in the trunk of his car and dropped him off at Paramount. Then Ken just waved goodbye and said good luck, 'I hope we do get that chance to work together.' I didn’t get that audition, But I did get the chance to work with him years later. It was an honor. Today his obituary read that he was six-foot-six, but he was so much taller than that."

Alec Baldwin

"I had known Ken most of my career, as I always remember White Shadow as a big hit on CBS. Later on, when he became president of SAG, I would see him regularly at the SAG awards. Ken was a great union leader and he made me proud to serve as SAG Ambassador for a couple of years. When Ken showed up on the 30 Rock set to play Hank Hooper, the owner of Kabletown, he reminded us all of just how funny he was. He nailed it. So often, union leaders lose a good part of their career as performers. Ken showed up, the head of SAG, and killed us with his take on the character and his timing. He was smart, talented and a doll to work with."

Tom Hanks

"Ken Howard was a calming, trusting presence, an actor who understood that our collective art is also a collective business. He promoted a common sense attitude that also looked for the as yet unimagined ideas that would strengthen not just the guild but also our gravitas as actors. I recall an anecdote about him from long ago when a shoot was not going well and a scene had become bogged down with conflicting ideas, troubled technicalities, and inertia — the life was being choked out of the process. Ken said to everyone, 'Look, folks, we gotta shoot this, so come on.' I liked this about Ken, that he understood a truth about the work that goes into a production, that not only does the work require us actors but we can lead the efforts to get it all done. Along with his physical stature, he was a giant of a man."

Bryan Cranston

"I'm deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my friend, Ken Howard. He was a fine actor, but an even finer human being. I can say with full confidence that he had SAG-AFTRA in his heart. It was his goal to make it the best union possible. He will be missed. Rest well, my friend."

David O. Russell

"Ken Howard was a bit of a hero to me since high school back east because a kid I knew got a role on The White Shadow, acted with Ken, said what a good guy he was and we all watched the show. He was a terrific actor and person. I'm grateful we got to work with him for a day on Joy, and he was a very good SAG president. I'm sad for him to be gone so soon."

Robert Duvall

"Ken was a really decent and talented man. We had wonderful conversations. At any time of the day you could approach him and have a welcome visit and talk about any subject that came up. It was a pleasure to be around him. I enjoyed very much working with him on The Judge."

Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA acting president

"Ken was an inspirational leader and it is an incredible loss for SAG-AFTRA, for his family and for everyone who knew him. He was a light that never dimmed and was completely devoted to the membership. He led us through tumultuous times and set our union on a steady course of excellence. We will be forever in his debt."

JoBeth Williams, SAG-AFTRA Foundation president

"Having known Ken Howard for over 30 years and worked with him as an actor and as a member of our Foundation Board, I would like to express how deeply we will feel his loss. Ken did great work all his life — as an actor, as the president of our union and for our Foundation. For more than four years, Ken served on our Board as an outspoken advocate for the emergency assistance, catastrophic health fund and scholarship programs for union members and their families in need of a leg up. He was also an ardent supporter of the Foundation’s free professional programs which help union members build their careers and develop their craft. Ken attended many Foundation fundraisers, events and meetings in order to support the mission and work of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. He did all of this on his own time, without compensation or fanfare, to be of service to his fellow union members. On behalf of our entire Board, staff and the union performers we serve every day, our hearts go out to Ken’s wife Linda and his entire family from all of us at the Foundation."

Paris Barclay, DGA President

"It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Ken Howard, president of our sister guild SAG-AFTRA. Ken was an industry leader whose passion was channeled in his selfless work to protect the rights of performers. His strong leadership of SAG-AFTRA through the merger was an inspiration to our industry. Above all, Ken was a man of integrity, honor and unmatched spirit. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his wife, Linda, his friends and the entire SAG-AFTRA family at this difficult time."

Howard Rodman, WGA-West president

"It was with great sadness that I learned of Ken Howard’s passing today. He was a tireless advocate for social justice, for his union and for its members. It is a fitting tribute to his commitment to improving the lives of actors, broadcasters and recording artists that he was the first president of the united SAG-AFTRA. He will be missed as a leader and as a bright light in the creative community. On behalf of the WGAW I would like to send our condolences to his family, his friends and all those whose lives he touched throughout his long and exemplary career."

Lowell Peterson, WGA-East executive director

"Ken Howard was unfailingly attentive and engaged. His legacy is embedded in the merger of SAG-AFTRA and brilliant television shows from The White Shadow to 30 Rock. We send our condolences to his family and friends."

Steven Poster, ASC president

"Ken's tireless work on behalf of the SAG-AFTRA membership was exceeded only by his grace and genuine caring for both his fellow actors and those of us lucky enough to cross paths with him either professionally or personally. His commitment to the well-being of his union and his unwavering support of other industry unions was unparalleled. He leaves a legacy of compassion, tenacity and generosity of spirit that will be greatly missed and impossible to duplicate, and his passing is a huge loss for our industry, the labor community and the world at large."

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president

"We mourn the loss of SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard, and we honor his tremendous leadership built on unwavering dedication to the members he represented. Ken was a unifier, a true professional and a powerful voice for working people. From his roles as Thomas Jefferson to Tip O'Neill to the White Shadow, he leaves an indelible legacy. He will be greatly missed."

Matthew D. Loeb, IATSE president

"We are deeply saddened at the news of SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard's passing yesterday. Ken was a leader during the difficult and important merger of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and he led with a vision of stability for the union members. Ken Howard was a strong leader, and this is an incredible loss to his family, SAG-AFTRA members and the industry as a whole. We support our sister union during this difficult time."

Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers

"We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ken Howard.  Anyone who ever met Ken knew of his devotion to acting and to his fellow actors. Even as he achieved success in his own acting career, he never lost sight of the need to advocate for working actors. At the bargaining table, Ken spoke sparingly, but eloquently and intelligently, in support of improvements in working conditions for actors. It was no surprise that Ken became the leader of the movement to unite SAG and AFTRA, something that had twice been attempted — and twice failed — before he became president of the Screen Actors Guild. It took someone with his forceful personality, considerable intelligence and immutable commitment to the betterment of working actors, broadcasters and recording artists to unite them in a single union. This, together with his remarkable portrayals of characters onstage and screen, will become his enduring legacy — one fitting for such a remarkable man. We will miss him greatly."

Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles mayor

"Ken Howard was a friend and an impactful leader who dedicated himself to improving the lives of union workers and fighting for everyday people in our city. His commitment to supporting artists, and encouraging creativity in young people, helped countless Angelenos jump-start successful careers in the entertainment industry. His influence and work will live on, and we will miss him dearly."

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