Actor Fred Ward has died at the age of 79.
Ward, best known for roles in Tremors, The Right Stuff, and more, was born in San Diego and led a handful of different lives before breaking into acting in the ’70s. The California native lasted six months as an actor in New York before hitting the road and taking on jobs as a logger in Alaska, working construction in California, and even spending time as a boxer, where he broke his nose three times.
Ward made his way to Rome where he dubbed Italian pictures and worked with neorealist luminary Roberto Rossellini. he made his acting debut in Rossellini’s three-part television series The Age Of Medici in 1973. Upon his return Stateside, Ward picked up a few smaller roles on an episode of Quincy M.E. and the Brooke Shields pinball-sploitation cult favorite Tilt before making a splash in 1979’s Don Siegel/ Clint Eastwood project, Escape From Alcatraz.
The early ’80s found Ward leaning into his tough-guy character actor groove, showing up in Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort, as well as taking the lead in the futuristic, Mad Max-inspired Timerider: The Adventure Of Lyle Swan from writer and Monkee, Michael Nesmith. His role as Gus Grissom—the second American to fly into space—in the Oscar-winning true story of the U.S. Space program, The Right Stuff elevated his profile.
In 1985, Ward took on the title role in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. The film was based on a pulp paperback series titled The Destroyer, and Orion Pictures, who produced the film intended, it to be a series: a “red white, and blue-collar Bond.” Ward signed for three films and while developing a cult following in more recent years, Remo Williams was panned by critics and flopped at the box office in the fall of 1985.
Ward continued working, taking on smaller roles in film and on television throughout the late ’80s and, in 1990, reteamed with Right Stuff director Phillip Kaufman for Henry & June, a loose adaptation of Anaïs Nin’s book of the same name that detailed her relationship with Henry and June Miller. The film famously became the first picture to receive the NC-17 rating. The X rating had infamously been co-opted by the adult film industry and NC-17 was intended to distinguish serious, non-pornographic films that dealt with adult themes; it’s also notable that some newspapers and TV stations wouldn’t advertise films with the X rating. “There’s that sort of taint on it,” Ward told the Washington Post in 1990. “People think they’re going into Debbie Does Dallas. “
The rest of the ’90s found Ward taking on roles in big-budget comedies (Naked Gun 33 ½: The Final Insult), two made-for -BO favorites (Cast A Deadly Spell, Bob Roberts), and working with Robert Altman (The Player, Short Cuts). For the rest of his career, Ward settled into life as one of the big and small screen’s most memorable character actors, with roles in Joe Dirt, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and his final appearance, on HBO’s True Detective.
It was Fred Ward’s wish that any memorial tributes be made to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.
Ward is survived by wife Marie-France and son Django.