Fred Thompson, who found success as both a politician and an actor, died on Sunday in Nashville from a recurrence of lymphoma, according to his family. He was 73.
During his unusual career, Thompson served as a U.S. senator from Tennessee, and appeared in more than 20 films, including In the Line of Fire, The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard II, and Cape Fear. Though he was likely to win reelection, the Republican chose to leave the Senate after nine years, and took the regular role of District Attorney Arthur Branch on Law & Order. He left the series in 2007 to launch a presidential bid. Thompson failed to generate much momentum in the early primary race, and dropped out in January 2008 after finishing third in the South Carolina Republican primary.
Thompson, the son of a Tennessee car salesman, was the first person in his family to attend college, graduating from Memphis State University and earning a law degree from Vanderbilt University. He got his start in politics in 1972, when former Republican senator Howard Baker selected the young lawyer to serve as chief minority counsel on the committee investigating the Watergate scandal. While being questioned by Thompson, Alexander Butterfield, a former White House aide, revealed that President Richard Nixon had a recording system installed in the Oval Office, which eventually led to the president’s resignation.
While working as a lawyer and lobbyist, in 1985 Thompson was asked to play himself in Marie, a film based on a case he’d worked on in Tennessee. After appearing in 18 films, in 1994 Thompson turned his attention back to Washington, running in a special election for the Senate seat vacated by Vice-President Al Gore. He was elected to his own term in 1996, but grew frustrated with gridlock in Congress and decided to retire. “On important stuff, where the interests are really dug in on both sides, it’s extremely difficult to get anything done,” Thompson told the AP.
Thompson is survived by his wife Jeri Thompson, and their children Hayden and Sammy; his children Tony and Dan from his first marriage; and five grandchildren. “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,” his family said in a statement. “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.”