Fred Thompson was a U.S. senator from Tennessee for eight years. Here he campaigns for president in Iowa in 2007.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Thompson, with his wife and daughter, campaigns for president in 2007.(Kevin Sanders / Associated Press)
Thompson and GOP rival Mitt Romney after a debate in 2007.(John Raoux / Associated Press)
Thompson attends a Broadway play opening in New York in 2013.(Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)
Thompson in Los Angeles in 2014.(Rich Polk / Getty Images)
Thompson greets delegates at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., in 2008.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Thompson during a GOP debate in 2008.(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)
Thompson with fellow Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Capitol Hill in 2001.(Dennis Cook / Associated Press)
Thompson, the lawyer, with a client in Nashville in 1977.(Billy Easley / Associated Press)
Thompson in 2014 in New York.(Ilya S. Savenok / Getty Images)
Fred Thompson, an actor and former U.S. senator from Tennessee with a booming, instantly recognizable voice and heavy-lidded eyes, died Sunday in Nashville. He was 73.
In a statement, his family said he had a recurrence of lymphoma.
While Thompson had a down-home persona, he was also a sophisticated attorney and Beltway insider who immersed himself in politics. In Washington, he served as minority counsel for the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973 and 1974. It was under Thompson’s questioning that former White House aide Alexander Butterfield revealed the fateful existence of a taping system in the Oval Office.
In his first campaign, his opponent, Rep. Jim Cooper, blasted away at what he suggested was a huge gap between Thompson the good ol’ boy and Thompson the politician.
Cooper called him “a Gucci-wearing, Lincoln-driving, Perrier-drinking, Grey Poupon-spreading millionaire Washington special-interest lobbyist.”
In fact, Thompson was a highly successful lobbyist, representing clients including the Teamsters Union pension fund, Westinghouse, GE and Toyota.
Still, his constituents in Tennessee liked his style and he handily won a 1994 election against Harlan Matthews, who had been appointed to succeed Al Gore after Gore became vice president. In 1996, Thompson was reelected to the Senate with 61% of the vote.
In 2007, he announced a run for the presidency but, despite his fame from movies and TV, it didn’t catch on. He ended his attempt in January 2008.
“It occurred to me that, to paraphrase one of Churchill’s comments, perhaps I had more to be humble about thanI had realized,” he wrote. “It also occurred to me that this was a pretty doggone expensive way to achieve a little humility.”
Standing out in a crowd with his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame, Thompson was a character actor who appeared in more than 20 films, including “In the Line of Fire” (1993), ''The Hunt for Red October,” (1990) and “Cape Fear” (1991). He often played authority figures, including a White House chief of staff, a Navy admiral, an FBI agent and a university president.
From 2002 to 2007, he also played Manhattan Dist. Atty. Arthur Branch on NBC’s “Law & Order.”
He called himself “a bit actor.”
“It’s like hundreds of thousands of average people who once a month go out to their community theater and get up onstage and play a little part,” he told the New York Times in 1997. “I got to do it, you know, with Paul Newman.”
Born Aug. 19, 1942, in Sheffield, Ala., Thompson grew up the son of a car salesman in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., a small town founded by Col. Davy Crockett.
At 17, he married his high school sweetheart, had two children and attended college on a basketball scholarship. One semester, he had to quit school and work part-time jobs in a church pew factory, a bicycle plant and a drive-in movie.
Born Harold Danhakl, the transgender actress, right, seen with Johnny Putnam, became one of Andy Warhol’s drag queen superstars. Her story was immortalized in the first lines of the Lou Reed song “Walk on the Wild Side.” She was 69. Full obituary(Unknown Photographer )
He helped launch a boom in sophisticated home cooking in the 1960s when he turned a hardware store in the Northern California community of Sonoma into the upscale kitchen shop Williams-Sonoma. His innovative approach led him to create a catalog business for home cooks in the early 1970s that was among the first of its kind. He was 100. Full obituary(Associated Press)
The former national security advisor helped craft President Clinton’s foreign policy from 1997 to 2001, when the administration carried out airstrikes in Kosovo and against Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq. He previously had worked in the State Department in President Jimmy Carter’s administration. He was 70. Full obituary(Kevin Wolf / Associated Press)
The former South Korean president formally ended decades of military rule and accepted a massive international bailout during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. He was 87. Full obituary(AFP / Getty Images)
The Scottish drummer replaced Ringo Starr as the Beatles’ drummer on their first single, “Love Me Do." The song, all 2 minutes and 22 seconds of it, was a hit, but after the session, White never played with the Beatles again. He was 85. Full obituary(Michael Brennan / Getty Images)
The legendary stripper and Bay Area institution helped introduce topless entertainment more than 50 years ago. She was 78. Full obituary(Norbert von der Groeben / Associated Press)
The West German chancellor was known for shepherding his country through tough economic times, pushing it closer to eventual reunification with Communist East Germany and facing down a band of domestic terrorists. He was 96. Full obituary(AFP / Getty Images)
The revered songwriter, producer, pianist and singer was a key architect of the early rock and R&B music that flowed from New Orleans to the national stage, an artist whose widespread influence led to his eventual status as a patriarch of the city’s fertile musical mash-up. He was 77. Full obituary(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
The Southern California custom-car legend created many of the most memorable and outrageous automobiles ever seen on film and television. He designed TV’s Batmobile as well as special vehicles for many of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and John Wayne. He was 89. Full obituary(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Mathison is best known as the screenwriter of the enormously successful “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” Her film credits also include “The Black Stallion,” “The Escape Artist” and “The Indian in the Cupboard.” She was 65. Full obituary(Paramount Pictures)
The Irish-born actress was one of the biggest film stars of the 1940s and ‘50s. She more than held her own in her most heralded roles, even against as forceful a presence as John Wayne, with whom she made five films including the classic “The Quiet Man.” She was 95. Full obituary(Harold Filan / Associated Press)
Best known as costar of the 1960s television series “I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster,” Ingels was also the cartoon voice of Pac-Man, and did voice-overs on many other cartoons and commercials.
He was also known for his marriage to Shirley Jones for nearly 40 years. He was 79. Full obituary
The Kansas native and avid mountaineer cofounded the JanSport company and sold backpacks by the millions. He was 69.(Teri Harris / Seattle Times)
The All-Star won baseball’s Cy Young Award as a 23-year-old right-hander for the Angels in 1964. He later founded the International Boxing Assn. and managed several fighters during the 1990s. He was 74. Full obituary(Associated Press)
Chef Paul Prudhomme popularized spicy Louisiana cuisine and became one of the first American restaurant chefs to achieve worldwide fame. He was 75. Full obituary(Bill Haber / Associated Press)
Grace Lee Boggs received a doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr before marrying a black activist and becoming nationally known for her eloquent, passionate and thoughtful advocacy of social change in America. She was 100. Full obituary(Associated Press)
Filmmaker Chantal Akerman was frequently likened to Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard and Rainer Werner Fassbinder for her restless, broad-ranging style and the piercing intelligence she brought to both the formal and thematic elements of her work. She was 65. Full obituary(Elisabetta A. Villa / WireImage)
In an era when few minorities of any kind belonged to Los Angeles’ social and civic elite, Marilyn Hudson was sometimes seen as the token black. The local civic leader broke barriers quietly at a time when racial militancy was in vogue. She was 88. Full obituary(Marianne Diamos / Los Angeles Times)
Susumu Ito, a member of a Japanese American regiment that rescued another group of U.S. soldiers during World War II, went on to become a professor and researcher at Harvard Medical School. He was 96. Full obituary(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
The designer was a force for working women who wanted a stylish but affordable look. Her eponymous brand became a favorite of career women. She was 80. Full obituary(Adrienne Helitzer / Los Angeles Times)
The publisher mined California’s counterculture for bestsellers, bringing out such consciousness-expanding works as “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards. He was 83. Full obituary
(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)
Considered one of the iconic figures of modern jazz, Woods was also thought of by some as the rightful heir to Charley “Bird” Parker. He may be best known to pop audiences for his alto saxophone work on Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu” and Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time.” He was 83. Full obituary(Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images)
Larson is best known for his role as Jimmy Olsen, the cub reporter in a bow tie who worked alongside Clark Kent (George Reeves) and Lois Lane (Noel Neill) in the 1950s TV series “The Adventures of Superman.” The show cast Larson into the pop culture pantheon. The bow tie he wore as Olsen later went to the Smithsonian. He was 87. Full obituary(Warner Bros.)
One of the best centers to ever play in the NBA, Malone was named to the NBA’s 50th anniversary all-time team and led the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA championship in 1983, when he also won the most valuable player award, one of three in his 21-year career. The 14-time All-Star entered the Hall of Fame in 2001. He was 60. Full obituary(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)
The Yankee Hall of Fame catcher was renowned as much for his dizzying malapropisms as his record 10 World Series championships. His wacky public utterances -- spoken with utter sincerity -- were quoted by presidents, professors and public speakers of all stripes, among millions of others. He was 90. Full obituary(Ron Frehm / Associated Press)
The best-selling author was a fixture on the Hollywood scene, where she frequented celebrity hangouts in search of story material. Her novels, including “Hollywood Wives,” “Hollywood Husbands” and “Hollywood Kids,” together sold more than 500 million copies around the world. She was 77. Full obituary(Tony Barnard / Los Angeles Times)
The Japanese American tail gunner overcame the American military’s discriminatory policies to fly on 58 bombing missions over three continents during World War II, including raids on Tokyo in the final months of the war. He was 98. Full obituary(Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)
Best known for star turns in Disney comedies such as “The Love Bug,” “That Darn Cat!” and “The Ugly Dachshund,” Jones often played the somewhat bumbling good guy. Later, his religious conversion -- he became a born-again Christian -- altered not only the course of his life but his career choices. He was 84. Full obituary(Dan Grossi / Associated Press)
His name forever linked to horror films, Craven created some of the genre’s most influential films, including 1977’s “The Hills Have Eyes,” 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and 1996’s “Scream.” He was 76. Full obituary(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Once called “the poet laureate of medicine,” Sacks, a neurologist, tried to shed light on the human condition through his study of people suffering from illnesses caused by an aberrant brain. He was 82. Full obituary(Elena Seibert / Knopf)
The veteran producer-director brought Hollywood headliners into America’s living rooms through live television in the 1950s. His creative partnership with Norman Lear produced such films as “Come Blow Your Horn,” “Divorce American Style” and groundbreaking television sitcoms such as “All in the Family,” “Maude” and “Sanford and Son.” He was 89. Full obituary(Harry Langdon / Associated Press)
Charismatic and eloquent, the civil rights leader had numerous key accomplishments, including co-founding the landmark Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and serving as board chairman of the NAACP. He was 75. Full obituary(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
After being shot in the face during a bar fight at 23 and losing his sight, Manning went on to become a poet, athlete and founder of a theater company in Watts. He was 60. Full obituary(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Specializing in made-to-order clothes, Scaasi designed bright, flamboyant creations that adorned first ladies from Mamie Eisenhower to Laura Bush and film stars from Elizabeth Taylor to Barbra Streisand. He was 85. Full obituary(Associated Press)
The British pop singer had a string of hits starting in 1964 with “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and “You’re My World.” Starting in the 1980s, she became an enormously popular personality on British TV. She was 72. Full obituary(William Vanderson / Getty Images)
As the wife of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, she spoke frankly about the stresses of life in the public eye, sudden fame and the letdown of life back on Earth. Like many astronaut marriages, the Aldrins’ ended in divorce. She was 84. Full obituary(Associated Press)
The poetry-spouting Texas oilman was the first climber to scale the highest peak on each of the seven continents. For a time, he was the oldest to top Mt. Everest. He was 85. Full obituary(Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort)
The author of a dozen books, including “The Book of Daniel,” “Ragtime” and “Billy Bathgate,” E.L. Doctorow was best known for weaving historical figures such as Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg into imaginative retellings. He was 84. Full obituary(Francesca Magnani / Random House)
In a film and TV career that spanned half a century, Theodore Bikel racked up more than 150 credits. His prolific career included playing the lead character Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” more than 2,000 times onstage. He was 91. Full obituary(Associated Press)
The Egyptian-born actor, right, rose to international acclaim after starring with Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia.” He went on to make some 90 movies in his career, including “Doctor Zhivago” and “Funny Girl.” He was 83. Full obituary(Columbia TriStar / Getty Images)
Soler, second from left, with chefs Juan Maria Arzak, left, Santi Santamaria and Martin Berasategui, in Paris in 2004, discovered chef Ferran Adria and helped him turn Spain’s El Bulli into one of the world’s most influential restaurants. Together they launched an era of gastronomic innovation fueled by Adria’s imaginative experiments converting foods into foam. Soler was 66. Full obituary(Philippe Petit / Paris Match )
In a career that spanned half a century, Weintraub proved a force in the worlds of music, film and television. He had an eye for talent, discovering a little-known singer-songwriter named John Denver, for example, and launching him to international stardom. Weintraub was 77. Full obituary(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
An apprentice to Ansel Adams, Partridge photographed many of the West’s natural wonders. But unlike his mentor, he worked to show humanity’s encroachments -- power lines marring a vista, tire tracks crisscrossing a pristine beach. He was one of the last links to a defining era in Western photography. He was 97. Full obituary(Oakland Museum of California )
As secretary and assistant to author F. Scott Fitzgerald, she did everything from picking up his laundry and fetching his groceries to balancing his checkbook and heating up canned turtle soup for his lunch. She was consulted for decades afterward by writers eager for her insights into the author. She was 99. Full obituary()
Best known for playing dapper secret agent John Steed in the classic 1960s TV series “The Avengers,” Macnee also had roles in film and television. But he never tired of being closely identified with the role that made him famous. He was 93. Full obituary()
A stage and screen actor, Van Patten was most famous for starring as loving father Tom Bradford in the television series “Eight Is Enough.” His roles in movies included “Soylent Green,” “High Anxiety” and “Spaceballs.” He was 86. Full obituary(Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times)
The Oscar-winning composer provided the musical accompaniment -- and the emotional beats -- to some of the most memorable works of modern cinema. While working on more than 100 movies, Horner earned six Grammy Awards and 10 Academy Award nominations, winning two Oscars for “Titanic.” He was 61. Full obituary(EPA)
A former pro football kicker for the Los Angeles Rams, Villanueva went on to co-found the powerful Univision network and become one of the wealthiest Latino executives in the country. He was 77. Full obituary(Los Angeles Times)
Roberts founded Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable TV company, and built it into far more than a supplier of TV channels by reaching into new frontiers of communications, including high-speed Internet service. He was 95. Full obituary(TNS)
The legendary talent manager played key roles in the careers of many top comedians, including Woody Allen, David Letterman, Robin Williams and Robert Klein. Along the way, Rollins helped create the role of the modern show business manager. He was 100. Full obituary(Carol Bernson)
He was an eighth-grade dropout, but, for a time, Kerkorian was the richest person in Los Angeles, amassing his fortune through bold investments in the casino, auto and music industries. While his name wasn’t on any buildings, he had ownership of companies like Chrysler and General Motors, and bought and sold MGM three times. He was 98. Full obituary(Associated Press)
A courageous editor, Carroll guided the Los Angeles Times to new heights, including a record 13 Pulitzer Prizes in five years. Of the 13 Pulitzers the paper won under Carroll, five were awarded in 2004. It was the largest number The Times ever won in a single year and the second-largest in the history of the prizes. He was 73. Full obituary(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Chartoff produced six “Rocky” films, “Raging Bull,” “The Right Stuff” and nearly two dozen other movies. His work with producing partner Irwin Winkler captured 12 Oscars and 40 nominations, with “Rocky” winning best picture honors in 1977. Winkler, left, and Chartoff, right, flank Sylvester Stallone in 1977. Chartoff was 81. Full obituary(Associated Press)
The English actor emerged as a British horror movie icon in the 1950s with his memorable portrayal of Count Dracula. In a career that spanned more than 60 years, he was known as “one of the screen’s foremost purveyors of evil and terror.” He was 93. Full obituary(Universal Pictures )
One of the first superstar chefs, Vergé, pictured here with actor John Travolta, was known for light, fresh and artfully plated food. He turned his restaurant, Le Moulin de Mougins in France, into a landmark of French gastronomy and a beacon of nouvelle cuisine. He was 85. Full obituary(Gilberte Tourte / Associated Press)
In 1947, Mervin D. Field created the Field Poll, which became the standard for public opinion research in California. Results of his surveys could instantly recast a campaign or alter a policy debate in Sacramento. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, one of several politicians who paid tribute to him after his death, said Field’s polls “helped shape nearly 70 years of state politics.” He was 94. Full obituary(Field Research Corp.)
While working as deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County, Vincent Bugliosi gained worldwide fame for his key role in prosecuting murderer Charles Manson and his followers. He used his celebrity to launch a career as a bestselling author, beginning with “Helter Skelter,” his account of the Manson case that has sold more than 7 million copies. He was 80. Full obituary(Anonymous / ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Ronnie Gilbert , pictured second to the right, was a member of the folk group the Weavers, who, at their peak, were known for spirited renditions of famous folk songs -- as well as antiwar protest songs that would lead to their temporary disbandment during the Red Scare. The group made a successful comeback three years later, going on to inspire other folk performers like the Kingston Trio. She was 88. Full obituary(RICHARD DREW / AP)
Prior to his surrender to U.S. forces in 2003, Tarik Aziz was known as the diplomatic symbol of the Iraqi government, the man Saddam Hussein deployed to convey his message to the world. He had been in custody since his surrender. He was 79. Full obituary(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)
Known as an innovator in biochemistry and a medical scholar, Irwin Rose, a researcher with UC Irvine, won the the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2004 for his study of how a cell gets rid of unwanted proteins. His research contributed to the use of an existing drug, Velcade, to treat a type of cancer called multiple myeloma. He was 88. Full obituary(UC Irvine )
A famed folk singer, Jean Ritchie was one of Appalachia’s most compelling voices and a powerful influence in American folk music, releasing more than 30 albums and performing globally. She is credited with saving songs that would have otherwise died and turning the once-obscure dulcimer into a folk music staple. She was 92. Full obituary(AP)
Known as a pioneer of local television news broadcasting, Sam Zelman is credited with helping to create CNN. In 1961, he introduced "The Big News,” expanding the typical 15-minute newscasts of the 1950s into a 45-minute broadcast. He would go on to work as a bureau chief and producer with CBS, and later, came out of retirement to help Ted Turner shape CNN. He was 100. Full obituary(handout / )
Son of Vice President Joe Biden, Beau Biden was the former attorney general for the state of Delaware and a U.S. Army captain. A promising young figure in
Acknowledged as one of the greatest American documentary photographers, Mark chronicled homeless families in Los Angeles and runaway children in Seattle, documenting them as they aged. Her work appeared in magazines such as Life and Look. She was 75. Full obituary()
Known as the “father of the modern-day surfboard,” Sweet played a pioneering role in introducing the foam surfboard that transformed the sport and helped propel it into the mainstream. He was 86. Full obituary(Sweet family )
The former jazz musician became a deeply influential and highly visible executive at Columbia Records, Blue Note Records and other major labels. He moved from one lofty record company job to another, leaving his mark along the way. He was 79. Full obituary(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
Happy Rockefeller made news by divorcing her husband to marry Nelson Rockefeller, the New York governor and front-runner for the 1964 Republican nomination for president. Their marital history was widely seen as a political drawback that cost him the ticket. She was 88. Full obituary(Associated Press)
The blues legend took the musical genre from the barrooms and back porches of the Mississippi Delta to Carnegie Hall and the world’s toniest concert stages. The 15-time Grammy winner created a unique style that made him one of the most respected and influential blues musicians ever. He was 89. Full obituary(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)
Best known for her role as the clueless mother of a confused, young Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in “The Graduate,” Wilson also acted in more than 30 movies and numerous Broadway plays. She was 94. Full obituary(Archive Photos / Getty Images)
The ex-wife of Johnny Carson, Joanne Carson was married to “The Tonight Show” host from 1963 to 1972. She later in life became a confidant of
The conceptual artist left a long-lasting legacy with “Urban Light,” the ranks of vintage lampposts tightly arrayed outside the
Blake won a 1991 screenwriting Oscar for
A celebrated Russian ballerina famous for her swan-like arms, powerful leaps and rebel spirit on and off the stage, Plisetskaya was renowned for passionate performances that contrasted with the ethereal style of many other dancers. She was 89. Full obituary(AFP / Getty Images)
Though Carawan didn’t write “We Shall Overcome,” he brought the song to the civil rights movement in April 1960. The Library of Congress called the song “the most powerful song of the 20th century.” He was 87. Full obituary(Jack Parker / Occidental College )
Meadows was known for her work on the game show “I’ve Got a Secret.” The show also introduced her to the man who became her second husband, Steve Allen, above with Meadows in 1979, who was the first host of NBC’s “Tonight Show.” Until his death in 2000, they were one of the most recognizable performing couples in Hollywood. She was 95. Full obituary(Martha Hartnett / Los Angeles Times)
A former Auschwitz prisoner and member of Poland’s World War II underground resistance, Bartoszewski helped save Jews and later served twice as the country’s foreign minister. He was 93. Full obituary(EPA)
King, a singer-songwriter, had one of the most enduring hits ever with “Stand By Me.” He was also known for his solo hits “Spanish Harlem” and “I (Who Have Nothing),” and “There Goes My Baby” and “Save the Last Dance for Me” with the Drifters. He was 76. Full obituary(AFP / Getty Images)
His ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ crystallized his musical identity as a purveyor of deeply felt songs of romantic longing. He was 74. Full obituary(Getty Images)
The Uruguayan writer and committed socialist wrote books condemning European and U.S. exploitation of Latin America. He was 74. Full obituary(EPA)
The influential master of the lampoon channeled his off-the-wall sensibility into groundbreaking radio shows, comedy albums and hundreds of humorous television commercials for products such as chow mein and prunes. He was 88. Full obituary(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The wife of James Brady, who was wounded in the attack on President Reagan in 1981, became the nation’s most prominent citizens’ advocate for tighter handgun regulation. She successfully pushed for passage of a historic bill aimed at keeping guns away from unqualified buyers. She was 73. Full obituary(Associated Press)
He built the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove as the embodiment of an upbeat, modern vision of Christianity, only to see his ministry shattered by family discord and financial ruin. He was 88. Full obituary(Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The science teacher turned weatherman who joined KABC-TV in 1972 and spent nearly two decades exuberantly delivering the local forecast was 92. Full obituary.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
While presiding over a government that squelched dissent and characterizing opponents as “mediocrities and opportunists,” he transformed the backwater city-state of Singapore into one of the world’s most efficient and prosperous international business centers. Full obituary.(Wong Maye-E / Associated Press)
The constitutional scholar with a modest manner and a homespun sense of humor was a former chancellor of UC Irvine and president of the UC system for three years in the 1990s. He was 91. Full obituary.(Dwayne Newton / Associated Press)
Thompson graduated from Memphis State and, in 1967, from Vanderbilt University law school.
Back in Lawrenceburg, he practiced law, formed his county’s first Young Republicans group, worked on political campaigns and came to the attention of prominent politicians, including U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Howard Baker.
“Very few people can light up the room the way Fred Thompson did,” Alexander said in a statement Sunday. “He used his magic as a lawyer, actor, Watergate counsel and United States senator to become one of our country’s most principled and effective public servants.”
It was Baker, the top Republican on the Senate Watergate committee, who chose the up-and-coming Thompson as the GOP counsel on the committee.
“I trusted him,” Baker told USA Today in 1997. “I didn’t have time to get acquainted with anybody else and evaluate a bunch of legal stars.”
After gaining national recognition on the Watergate committee, Thompson returned to Tennessee. He took on the case of Marie Ragghianti, an aide to Gov. Ray Blanton who said she had been unfairly fired. The trial sparked a corruption investigation that landed the governor and several other officials in jail.
Thompson’s first movie role was in 1985 as Sissy Spacek’s lawyer in “Marie: A True Story.” Thompson played himself, though he thought his name was too undistinguished for a show business career.
“Nobody is named Fred,” he complained to People magazine, “except uncles and dogs.”
He appeared in “Die Hard 2” (1990) with Bruce Willis; “Fat Man and Little Boy” (1989) with Newman; “In the Line of Fire” (1993) with Clint Eastwood; and “Aces: Iron Eagle III” (1992) with Lou Gossett Jr. He also played American Express Chief Executive James Robinson on HBO’s “Barbarians at the Gate: The Rise and Fall of RJR Nabisco” (1993).
In the Senate, he was known as something of a maverick.
He angered fellow conservatives by allying himself with the McCain-Feingold effort at campaign finance reform. In 1998, he was one of just 10 Republicans to vote against convicting President Clinton on one of two counts arising from his affair with a White House intern.
When he oversaw 1997 hearings on the role of money in politics, other Republicans were hopeful that charges about access peddling would rock the Clinton administration. But Thompson also allowed testimony that was unflattering to Republicans, and some party members had bitter memories of it 10 years later, when Thompson announced his presidential run.
“The way Thompson conducted the hearings may raise questions about whether he has the zest for cut-and-thrust partisanship that many conservatives want in their leaders,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 2007. “Although conservatives wanted to keep the focus on Clinton and the Democrats, Thompson … broadened the scope of the investigation, giving Democrats opportunities to question GOP practices.”
Thompson’s survivors include Jeri Kehn Thompson, his wife since 2002; their two young children; and two grown children from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. He had five grandchildren.