NEW YORK — Fred Ward, a veteran actor who brought gruesome tenderness to tough-to-play roles in films like “The Right Stuff,” “The Player” and “Tremors,” has died. He was 79 years old.
Ward died on Sunday, his publicist Ron Hoffman said on Friday. No cause or place of death was given as per the wishes of the family.
Ward earned a Golden Globe and shared the Venice Film Festival award for his performance in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” and playing the title character in “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins”. He reached new heights playing Mercury 7 astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom in the 1983 Academy Award-nominated film “The Right Stuff.”
“Devastated to learn of the passing of my friend, Fred Ward,” tweeted actor Matthew Modine, who co-starred with Ward in “Short Cuts” and Alan Rudolph’s “Equinox.” “A hard mask covering feelings as deep as the Pacific Ocean. Godspeed: Amigo.”
A former boxer, woodcutter in Alaska, and a short-order cook who served in the U.S. Air Force, Ward was a San Diego native who was part of the Cherokee. An early major was alongside Clint Eastwood in 1979’s “Escape from Alcatraz”.
Actor Kate Mulgrew tweeted: “I mourn the loss of Fred Ward, who was so kind to me while working together on ‘Remo Williams’.” “Decent and courteous and thoroughly professional, he was unarmed with a smile that was at once warm and mischievous.”
Ward’s other roles included a rumored cop chasing a psychotic criminal played by Alec Baldwin in George Armitage’s “Miami Blues”. He was a formidable and intimidating father to both the character of Freddie Prinze Jr. in “Summer Catch” and the title character of David Spade in “Joe Dirt”.
Ward played President Ronald Reagan in the 2009 Cold War spy thriller “Farewell” and had a supporting role in the 2013 action flick “2 Guns”, starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.
In the horror-comedy “Tremors,” Ward played a pair of repairmen, along with Kevin Bacon, who rescue a harsh Nevada desert community surrounded by giant subterranean snakes.
With the sexual charge, NC-17 “Henry and June,” Ward showed more than just patience. Based on the book by Anis Nin and directed by Philip Kaufman, Ward played the role of novelist Henry Miller, opposite Nin and his wife, June. “My back end seemed to have something to do with[that rating],” he told The Washington Post.
He returned with Altman for the part of a studio security chief in the director’s 1992 Hollywood satire “The Player” and played a union activist and Meryl Streep co-worker in Mike Nichols’ “Silkwood” in 1983.
Ward demonstrated his comedy chops in 1994 playing a terrorist intent on blowing up the Academy Awards in “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult”.
On the small screen, he had recurring roles in NBC’s “ER” playing the father of Maura Tierney’s Abby Lockhart in 2006–2007, and guest starred in series such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Leverage” and “United States of Tara.” acted out. Ward most recently appeared on the second season of HBO’s “True Detective” as the retired cop father of Colin Farrell’s Detective Ray Velcoro.
Ward is survived by his wife of 27 years, Marie-France Ward, and his son, Jongo Ward.