Ken Howard, longtime actor and the president of actors’ union SAG-AFTRA (and the man responsible for the two unions’ 2012 merger), died yesterday at the age of 71.
“Ken was a remarkable leader and his powerful vision for this union was a source of inspiration for all of us,” said David White, SAG-AFTRA’s executive director, in a statement. “He was an exceptional person and we are deeply saddened by his passing. He had a remarkable career and he never forgot what it was like to be a working performer.”
Howard’s most notable acting roles came in the 1970s, when he portrayed Thomas Jefferson in the film adaptation of Broadway musical 1776 and high school basketball coach Ken Reeves in the CBS drama The White Shadow. In more recent years, he was known for recurring roles in Crossing Jordan and 30 Rock. He also won an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as socialite Little Edie’s distant father, Phelan Beale, in the 2009 HBO movie Grey Gardens.
Though never a bona fide star, Howard’s accomplishments on the business side of the acting industry (and his 6’6” height) made him a larger-than-life figure. He was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 2009 and, in 2012, catalyzed the union’s merger with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He then served as the president of the combined organization until his death.
Howard is survived by his third wife, Linda Fetters.