Folksy character actor and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson has passed away at the age of 73, as reported by multiple outlets and confirmed by the man’s family. Thompson died on Sunday in Nashville surrounded by friends and family, the merciful end to a decade-long battle with lymphoma. Though known chiefly for his role as hard-nosed District Attorney Arthur Branch in the Law and Order franchise, Thompson also appeared in films such as Die Hard 2the Hunt for Red October, and the HBO film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

Though the credit on his CV that Thompson most prized wasn’t onscreen. Prior to his multi-year engagement on Law and Order, Thompson jump-started his passion for justice by serving as a Senator on behalf of Tennessee from 1994 to 2003. This was no vanity project for a bored actor, either. Thompson got deeply involved in government, serving as the chairman of the International Security Advisory Board in the Department of State, sitting on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and stepping in as a Visiting Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute.

Though born in Alabama, Thompson was raised in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and would go on to matriculate from what was then named Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis. He passed the Tennessee State Bar in 1967 and prosecuted bank robberies and other criminal cases in the years that followed. In 1973, Thompson assisted the Republicans on the Senate Watergate Committee in their investigation of President Nixon’s scandal.

While working as a lobbyist, Thompson was approached by Roger Donaldson in 1985 to portray himself in a film based on the case of Marie Ragghianti, which Thompson had worked in real life. They got along so well that Donaldson casted Thompson in his next film, the 1987 political thriller No Way Out. Taking a shine to this whole ‘acting’ game, Thompson racked up a few roles in films and television during the early ‘90s, becoming the entertainment industry’s go-to guy for portrayals of governmental authority. Thompson put his acting career on the back burner during his tenure in the Senate, but returned to the screen after he had complete his term.

Thompson’s final role was in the religious film 90 Minutes in Heaven, a note of moral righteousness he surely would’ve been pleased to have gone out on. Both in politics and in Hollywood, a moral compass that always pointed true north was the constant for Thompson. Many actors shuffle off this mortal coil with a long and varied résumé to be proud of, but Thompson attained something higher than most actors aspire to. Not only did he imagine a better world through his performances, he went out and tried to create one, too.

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