Fred Ward, Versatile Character Actor in ‘Tremors’ and ‘The Right Stuff,’ Dead at 79
From Miami Blues and Remo Williams to Henry & June and Naked Gun 33 1/3, “You never knew where he was going to pop up, so unpredictable were his career choices,” Ward’s rep said
Fred Ward, the versatile character actor who starred in films like Tremors, The Right Stuff and Henry & June during a career that spanned five decades, has died at the age of 79. Ward’s rep, Ron Hoffman, confirmed the actor’s May 8 death in a statement, though no cause of death was provided.
An Air Force veteran and amateur boxer before becoming an actor — his tough guy look and gruff exterior was attained thanks to a few broken noses in the ring — Ward was equally adept when featuring in dramas, comedies and action films: His credits also include Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, Joe Dirt and Road Trip.
“The unique thing about Fred Ward is that you never knew where he was going to pop up, so unpredictable were his career choices,” Hoffman said in a statement.
After studying acting in Rome and dubbing Italian films into English, Ward made his first major on-screen appearance with a role in the Clint Eastwood-starring Escape From Alcatraz in 1979. His first starring role was as the titular character in the 1982 film Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann, a sci-fi Western written by the Monkees’ Michael Nesmith; ironically, both Ward and Nesmith were born on the same day, Dec. 30, 1942.
Ward also portrayed astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom in Philip Kaufman’s hit adaptation of The Right Stuff and, seven years later, reunited with the director to play author Henry Miller in the drama Henry & June, the first-ever film to receive the MPAA’s then-new NC-17 rating in 1990.
That same year saw Ward star in two more of his best-known on-screen roles: As hard-boiled cop Hank Moseley in the adaptation of Charles Willeford’s Miami Blues — a film that Ward himself produced after acquiring the novel’s rights — and as handyman Earl Bassett alongside Kevin Bacon in the cult horror comedy Tremors. (Ward would return to that role in the direct-to-video sequel Tremors 2: The Aftershock.)
The actor also enjoyed a lengthy collaboration with his friend Robert Altman, appearing in the legendary director’s The Player, Bob Roberts and Short Cuts.
Ward continued to act on both the big and small screens through the 2000s, making guest appearances on ER, Grey’s Anatomy, United States of Tara and Leverage. His last role was a two-episode stint on the first season of HBO’s True Detective.