Fred Thomson, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee, Republican
presidential candidate and “Law and Order” actor, died Sunday after a
recurrence of lymphoma. He was 73.
Thompson’s family announced the news in a statement, which was published 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,” the statement said.
It continued: "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. "
Thompson, born in 1942, served in the senate from December 1994 to January 2003.
Following his time in the senate, Thompson played District Attorney
Arthur Branch on Law & Order for five seasons, leaving the show to
run for president.
Thought to be a contender during the early stages of the 2008
Republican presidential primary cycle, Thompson drew little support in
many of the early states and he took a big hit when the former Southern
senator failed to win South Carolina. He eventually dropped out in late
After leaving the race, he campaigned extensively for presidential
nominee John McCain, and briefly sought support to become chairman of
the Republican National Committee before quitting after a few months.
"Fred Thompson lived life to the very fullest," said Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. in a statement. "The first in his family
to go to college, Fred would go on to become Watergate lawyer, Senate
colleague, presidential candidate, radio personality, and icon of silver
and small screen alike who didn't just take on criminals as an actor
but as a real-life prosecutor too."
Thompson's rise to the Senate was atypical. He had never before held
public office, but he overwhelmingly won a 1994 special election for Al
Gore's old Senate seat after connecting with voters. In 1996 he easily
won a six-year term.
The son of a car salesman, Thompson was born in Sheffield, Ala., and
grew up in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., where he was a star athlete. He was 17
when he married Sarah Lindsey. The couple, who divorced in 1985, lived
in public housing for a year as newlyweds.
Thompson graduated from Memphis State University in 1964 and earned
his law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1967. To pay for school, he
worked at a bicycle plant, post office and motel.
Thompson went on to become a lawyer in Nashville. In 1969, he became
an assistant U.S. attorney, then volunteered in 1972 to work on the
re-election campaign of former Republican Sen. Howard Baker. A year
later, Baker selected Thompson to be chief minority counsel on the
committee investigating the Watergate scandal.
Afterward, Thompson returned to Tennessee and represented Marie
Ragghianti, the head of the Tennessee Parole Board who was fired in 1977
after exposing a pardon-selling scheme. Ragghianti won reinstatement
and her case was made into a 1985 movie titled "Marie," based on the
1983 book "Marie: A True Story," by Peter Maas. The producers asked
Thompson to play himself, which launched his acting career.
"Fred Thompson served the people of Tennessee and America with great
honor and distinction," said Sen. Bob Corker, R Tenn. in a statement
Sunday night. "From the courtroom to Capitol Hill to Hollywood, his
larger than life personality was infectious and had a way of making all
of those around him strive to be better."
Thompson once called the Senate a "remarkable place" but, like
Hollywood, said there was "frustration connected with it." He said he
was disappointed the Governmental Affairs Committee didn't get more time
in 1997 to investigate the fund-raising practices of the 1996
Some thought his high-profile role as chairman of the hearings could
launch a presidential bid. That did not materialize in 2000 after the
hearings were dismissed as political theater.
"They ran me for a while and then they took me out of the race, and
all the time I was kind of a bystander," Thompson said in 2002 about
speculation over his presidential prospects two years earlier.
Just before leaving the Senate, Thompson told the Associated Press
that too much time was spent on meaningless matters and partisan
"On important stuff, where the interests are really dug in on both
sides, it's extremely difficult to get anything done," he said at the
In June 2002, Thompson married Jeri Kehn, a political and media specialist.
After retiring from politics, Thompson hosted a conservative radio
talk show between 2009 and 2011
and became a TV advertising pitchman for
American Advisers Group, a reverse mortgage financial company.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.