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Ken Howard, Tony Winner and Originator of Thomas Jefferson in 1776, Dies at 71

Howard served as president of the union SAG-AFTRA.

Ken Howard has died at the age of 71.
(© David Gordon)

Ken Howard, an Emmy- and Tony-winning veteran of stage and screen, and president of the union SAG-AFTRA, has died at the age of 71.

Born March 28, 1944, in El Centro, California, Howard grew up in Manhasset, New York. He was a graduate of Amhurst College and attended Yale School of Drama, but dropped out to make his Broadway debut in the Burt Bacharach-Hal David musical Promises, Promises in 1968.

Howard's next Broadway production in 1969 was the hit musical 1776, in which he originated the role of Thomas Jefferson. Between acting in the stage version and reprising his role in the 1972 film, Howard won a 1970 Tony Award for his performance opposite Pat Hingle and Fritz Weaver in Child's Play.

His Broadway credits also include the musical Seesaw opposite Michele Lee, Alan Ayckbourn's Norman Conquests trilogy, the musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and, in 1990, Neil Simon's Rumors. He played the role of Martin Dysart in a national tour of Equus.

Howard was just as well known for his roles on the big and small screens. A prolific character actor, he appeared in The White Shadow, Bonanza, Murder, She Wrote, Crossing Jordan, NYPD Blue, The Practice, The Golden Girls, The Office, and 30 Rock, among many other shows. His films include Tell Me That You Love Me, Clear and Present Danger, The Net, Rambo, Michael Clayton, and J. Edgar. Howard received an Emmy Award for his performance as Phelan Beale in the HBO 2009 film Grey Gardens.

In September 2009, Howard was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild and was reelected for a second term in 2011. When SAG merged with American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, he became the president of SAG-AFTRA, and was reelected in 2015.

Howard is survived by his third wife, Linda Fetters.