Ken Swofford, Actor on 'Fame' and 'Ellery Queen,' Dies at 85

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Ken Swofford

On the big screen, he appeared in films directed by Robert Wise, Stanley Kramer, John Huston, Blake Edwards and Ridley Scott.

Ken Swofford, the familiar character actor who played the stubborn vice principal Quentin Morloch for three seasons on the TV adaptation of Fame, has died. He was 85.

Swofford died Thursday, his grandson Brandon Swofford announced. He was a longtime resident of Pacific Grove, California.

The red-headed Swofford also portrayed the reporter Frank Flannigan on the admired but short-lived 1975-76 NBC series Ellery Queen, starring Jim Hutton, and he recurred as Lt. Catalano on several episodes of another sleuthing series, Angela Lansbury's Murder, She Wrote.

Swofford frequently played lawmen of various stripes, doing so on other shows like The Odd CouplePetrocelli, Switch, Police StoryThe Rockford FilesThe A-TeamKnots LandingDynasty and Dallas.

On the big screen, Swofford had roles in Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain (1971), Stanley Kramer's The Domino Killings (1977), Blake Edwards' S.O.B. (1981), John Huston's Annie (1982) and Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise (1991).

Swofford joined Fame for the start of its third season in 1983 as the show moved from NBC into syndication and appeared as Morloch, a principal at the fictional New York City High School for the Performing Arts, into its fifth season. He sued MGM Studios in 1985, claiming he was wrongfully fired from the series. 

In 1989, Swofford was sentenced to 28 months in prison for felony drunk driving. He later campaigned against drunk driving as he resumed his acting career and narrated a documentary for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Born on July 25, 1933, in Du Quoin, Illinois, Kenneth Charles Swofford graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in theater in 1959. He came to Los Angeles and appeared with Gregory Peck and Tony Curtis in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), with Cary Grant in Father Goose (1964) and on episodes of The Big Valley and The Virginian.

He worked with Kramer for the first time in Bless the Beasts and Children (1971), playing a macho camp counselor known as Wheaties, and shared a cockpit with Charlton Heston in Skyjacked (1972).

Swofford provided the voice of the title character in the 2018 short film Happy the Angry Polar Bear, written and directed by his grandson. One of his five children, Stephen Swofford, is a producer and production manager in Hollywood.

He married his wife, Barbee, in 1958.