Fred Thompson

Attorney and actor Fred Thompson was on the Watergate Committee and served in the U.S. Senate. Also an actor, he played Arthur Branch on Law & Order.


Fred Thompson was born on August 19, 1942, in Sheffield, Alabama. He served as a U.S. Attorney and was on the Watergate Committee that investigated Nixon. In 1985, he played himself in the movie Marie, which led to several film roles. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2003, after which he played the role of Arthur Branch on Law & Order. He briefly ran for U.S. president in 2008.

Early Life

Actor, attorney and politician Freddie Dalton Thompson was born on August 19, 1942, in Sheffield, Alabama, though he grew up in Tennessee. Thompson attended Memphis State University before earning his law degree from Vanderbilt. He began his career in law in 1967 and served as a U.S. Attorney from 1969-'72.

Watergate Investigation

Thompson landed in the national spotlight when he was appointed as the Republican counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee investigating the Nixon White House. During a televised hearing, it was Thompson who asked White House aide Alexander Butterfield about the existence of tapes made of Oval Office conversations. Those tapes would eventually lead to Nixon's resignation. After Watergate, Thompson worked as a lawyer and lobbyist in Nashville and Washington D.C.

Acting Career

In 1985, Thompson was asked to play himself in the movie Marie, which was based on the life of whistleblower Marie Ragghianti whom Thompson had defended. His natural on-screen talent led to several other roles and a second career as an actor. Thompson's films include 1987's No Way Out starring Kevin Costner, the 1990 Tom Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder, 1990's The Hunt for Red October and 1993's In the Line of Fire starring Clint Eastwood. He also made appearances in television shows including Roseanne, in which he played Keith Faber, Roseanne's boss and nemesis at Wellman Plastics. Other television credits include Wiseguy, China Beach, Matlock, Sex and the City and The Good Wife. 

Political Career

In 1994, Thompson, a conservative Republican, sought political office for the first time. He ran to fill the remaining two years of Al Gore's U.S. Senate term from Tennessee (after Gore became vice president). After barnstorming the state in a red pickup truck while wearing cowboy boots, Thompson won a landslide. He was re-elected in 1996 to a full six-year term.

In 2002, Thompson chose not to run for re-election and took the role of New York District Attorney Arthur Branch on the television series Law & Order. He stayed with the show until 2007 when he announced his bid for the U.S. presidency. He officially announced he was withdrawing his candidacy for President of the United States on January 22, 2008.

Personal Life

In April 2007, Fred Thompson disclosed that in 2004, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. He said the cancer was in remission and he was suffering no symptoms.

At the age of 17, Thompson married Sarah Elizabeth Lindsey in September 1959. Both he and his wife worked to pay for his education and support their three children. The couple divorced in 1985. Thompson's daughter, Elizabeth "Betsy" Thompson Panici, died from an accidental overdose of prescriptions drugs in 2002.

In 2002, Thompson married Republican consultant Jeri Kehn and they had two children.


On November 1, 2015 Thompson died from a recurrence of lymphoma. He was 73.

"It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of grief that we share the passing of our brother, father and grandfather who died peacefully in Nashville," a family statement offered. "Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of … his home."

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