‘Law & Order’ star, former Senator Fred Thomson, dead at 73

Former 2008 Republican presidential primary candidate reportedly died from a recurrence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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"Law & Order" star and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson on the campaign trail during the 2008 Republican primary season. (Image via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1, 2015 – Former Watergate attorney, U.S. senator, 2008 Republican presidential primary candidate and star of TV’s original version of “Law & Order” Fred Thompson died Sunday at the age of 73. He had been suffering from a recurrence of a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to his family.

The family announced the news in the following statement, which appeared Sunday in the Tennessean:

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…

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.


Fred believed that the greatness of our nation was defined by the hard work, faith, and honesty of its people.  He had an enduring belief in the exceptionalism of our country, and that America could provide the opportunity for any boy or girl, in any corner of our country, to succeed in life.

Hailing originally from Alabama, the strapping 6-foot-5-inch former senator had an unusual career that spanned the legal, legislative and entertainment arenas. He played a key role in the Watergate investigation when he served as committee counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee and became the first individual to raise the issues of the notorious Nixon tapes in a public hearing.

In an unusual career trajectory, Thompson portrayed himself in a 1985 film, “Marie,” which was based on the case of a whistle-blower he’d represented in court. Critics and filmmakers liked the performance, and this eventually landed him a role in three major blockbuster movies, “Days of Thunder,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “Die Hard 2.”

In yet another career switch, Thompson, a conservative Republican, ran for and won a seat as one of Tennessee’s U.S. senators in 1994, serving out the final two years of Sen. Al Gore’s senate term after Gore assumed the office of vice-president in 1993. He was overwhelmingly re-elected to serve a full six-year term in 1996.

After deciding against running for a third Senate term in 2002, he again headed for Hollywood, this time being famously cast in the role of the tough-minded but fair senior New York District Attorney Arthur Branch on TV’s long-running original “Law & Order,” a role he played through 2007. He also made appearances on other “Law & Order” spinoffs, and also made guest appearances on the current hit legal and political series “The Good Wife” in 2011-12.

Thompson departed from the “Law & Order” cast to run in the 2008 Republican presidential primary sweepstakes. His presence, his manner, and above all his crisply defined conservative credentials created considerable excitement in his party.

Republicans found both themselves and the Bush II administration on the ropes that election year. Having already watched their congressional majorities evaporate in 2006, the party and the Bush II administration were simultaneously bashed by the media for the War on Terror while confronting the beginnings of what quickly became the disastrous Great Recession, the financial debacle that began to unfold near the end of Bush’s second term as president.

For whatever reason, however, the normally impressive Thompson ran a lackluster campaign. His early efforts fizzled and he ended up dropping out of the contest in January 2008, one of that campaign season’s earlier departures.

At the time of his death, Thompson was married to Jeri Kehn. The couple had two children. He had previously been married to the former Sarah Lindsey, who passed away in 2002. Divorced in 1985, they had three children together.

Final funeral arrangements were not available at the time this report was written.

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17