Fred Ward, the actor who played gruff but honorable characters in films like Tremors and The Right Stuff, has died. Though news of his passing is only just being made public, NPR reports he died on Sunday, May 8th. He was 79 years old.
At the request of his family, no cause or place of death have been revealed.
Ward is perhaps best known for his starring role in the 1990 cult-classic horror comedy Tremors. Playing the part of Earl Bassett, he battled vicious, carnivorous underground warms alongside Kevin Bacon. He reprised the role in the 1996 direct-to-video sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks. While that would be the last entry in the franchise he’d appear in, the Tremors series spanned five other sequels and a short-lived SyFy TV series.
Other highlights of Ward’s career include playing astronaut hopeful Gus Grissom in Philip Kaufman’s Oscar-winning 1983 The Right Stuff, starring alongside Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell in that same year’s Silkwood, squaring off against Alec Baldwin in 1990’s Miami Blues, and threatening to blow up the Academy Awards in 1994’s The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. He also featured in Kaufman’s 1990’s Henry & June, the first NC-17 to screen in cinemas.
Whether playing Reese Witherspoon’s father in Sweet Home Alabama (2002) or a US Navy Read Admiral in 2 Guns (2013), Ward brought an undercurrent of warmth to what could be seen as typical tough guy roles. “The unique thing about Fred Ward is that you never knew where he was going to pop up, so unpredictable were his career choices,” his publicist, Ron Hofmann, said in a statement to NPR.
Born in San Diego on December 30th, 1942, Ward had quite a list of occupations before he found acting. His resume included amateur boxer, Alaskan lumberjack, and short-order cook before he served three years in the US Air Force as an airborne radar tech based in Goose Bay, Canada. He then studied acting at Herbert Berghof’s New York studio before heading to San Francisco. There, he landed early roles in plays by Sam Shepard (whom he would later star alongside in The Right Stuff) and worked construction on the city’s transit system.
He then went to Rome, where he worked as a voice actor dubbing films, as well as a mime. He also had roles in Robert Rossellini’s telefilms. His first Hollywood role came in 1975 as an uncredited cowboy in Tony Bill’s Hearts of the West. In 1979, he landed his first major role playing a con who attempts to breakout of jail with Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz.
Ward can also be seen in films like Southern Comfort (1981), Swing Shift (1984), Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985), Secret Admirer (1985), The Prince of Pennsylvania (1988), Cast a Deadly Spell (1991), The Crow: Salvation (2000), Road Trip (2000), Joe Dirt (2001), and Enough (2002). His last credited appearance came as Eddie Velcoro in Season 2 of HBO’s True Detective (2015).
He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Marie-France Ward, and his son, Django Ward.