Sad to report that actor Ken Howard, who starred in the musical “1776” and on TV as “The White Shadow,” has died at age 71.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Howard, who is currently the president of SAG-AFTRA, died Wednesday at his home near Los Angeles.
“Ken was an inspirational leader and it is an incredible loss for SAG-AFTRA, for his family and for everyone who knew him,” SAG-AFTRA acting president Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement released on the union’s site. “He was a light that never dimmed and was completely devoted to the membership. He led us through tumultuous times and set our union on a steady course of excellence. We will be forever in his debt.”
Howard was born on March 28, 1944, in El Centro, Calif., and raised in Manhasset, N.Y. After high school, he captained the basketball team at Amherst College and was a member of an a capella group before attending the Yale School of Drama.
Those activities set him up well for two of his most memorable roles, that of the inner city basketball coach on the series “The White Shadow” and as Thomas Jefferson, the singing and dancing drafter of the Declaration of Independence, in the 1972 movie musical “1776,” a role he had originated on Broadway.
“The White Shadow” (1978-1981) was based on the actor’s own experience as the only white player on his high-school basketball team. He explained in a 2005 interview with the NBA why he thinks the show is still a fan favorite: ” I think it is because it was home made. I had an idea and I went to [writer-producer] Bruce Paltrow and he was a friend of mine … I said, ‘How about me as a coach?’ …. A guy who was in the NBA, a white guy, and now he’s a coach, and he really knows the game. He’s coaching in a racially mixed inner city school, he’s got to deal with all his kids’ stuff, and that was it.”
He recalls that CBS wanted the show to be a half-hour sitcom, but that it became a groundbreaking drama instead. “That’s all the stuff that is out there, the demons, that these kids are dealing with. … So the next thing you know, we are breaking all kinds of ground. I mean, we were dealing with [venereal disease] and teenage pregnancy and drugs and gambling … we figured, why not?”
The actor, who stood an impressive 6’6,” won a Tony Award in 1970, Howard for his performance as a P.E. teacher at a Catholic boarding school in “Child’s Play.” In 2009, he won an Emmy for the HBO movie “Grey Gardens.” His other TV roles include Garrett Boydston on “Dynasty” and its spinoff “The Colbys” and the retired police detective father of Jill Hennessy’s forensic examiner on “Crossing Jordan.” He also had a recurring role as Hank Hooper, the CEO of Kabletown, on “30 Rock.”
He made his Broadway debut in 1968 in the original production of Neil Simon’s “Promises, Promises” and his film debut opposite Liza Minnelli in “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon” (1970). His many other films include “Clear and Present Danger” (1994), “At First Sight” (1999), “Michael Clayton” (2007), “The Judge” (2014), “The Wedding Ringer” (2015) and “Joy” (2015).
Howard was elected the 25th and final president of SAG in September 2009. After the merger with AFTRA, he was re-elected in 2013 and 2015.
Survivors include his wife, retired stuntwoman Linda Fetters Howard, and three stepchildren, according to THR.
SAG-AFTRA invites members and Ken’s fans and friends to send messages via the memorial wall on the sagaftra.org website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.