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Fred Ward, Beloved ‘Right Stuff,’ ‘Henry & June,’ and ‘Tremors’ Actor, Dead at 79

Ward, who died on Sunday, was also known for films like "Miami Blues," "The Player," and "Short Cuts."

HENRY AND JUNE, Fred Ward, 1990. ©Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Fred Ward in “Henry and June”

©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

Fred Ward, iconic character actor and star of films like “The Right Stuff,” “Tremors,” “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins,” “Miami Blues,” and “Henry & June,” has died. He passed away on Sunday, May 8, as confirmed by his representatives. The Golden Globe winner was also known for starring in Robert Altman films like “The Player” and “Short Cuts.”

Fred Ward is survived by his wife of 27 years, Marie-France Ward, and his son, Django Ward.

On screens since the early 1970s after serving in the U.S. Air Force and stints as an order cook, boxer, and a lumberjack in Alaska, Ward was known for his versatility in both comic and dramatic roles. He could play author Henry Miller in “Henry & June,” the world’s first NC-17 movie, or a dirt bike rider in “Timerider: The Aventure of Lyle Swann.” But his first major role came in Clint Eastwood’s 1979 “Escape from Alcatraz” as bank robber John Anglin.

His role as Mercury 7 astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom in Philip Kaufman’s Tom Wolfe adaptation “The Right Stuff” in 1983 brought him new acclaim. In 1990’s “Miami Blues,” he played a veteran Miami detective entangled with a slick ex-con played by Alec Baldwin. Ward himself bought the film rights to the source material, a novel by Charles Willeford, with George Armitage directing and Jonathan Demme producing.

For Robert Altman, he played a studio security chief in the Hollywood satire “The Player” and as a fisherman who discovers a corpse in Robert Altman’s Raymond Carver saga “Short Cuts” — two memorable roles for a major American filmmaker who tapped the actor’s chameleon-like gifts.

Ward is best known by cult film fans for his role as Earl Bass in 1990’s horror comedy “Tremors,” in which he battled giant, wormlike sand monsters opposite Kevin Bacon.

Over the last few years, in addition to appearances in a wide range of films like “Chain Reaction,” “The Chaos Factor,” “Summer Catch,” “Wild Iris” with Gena Rowlands,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Abandon,” “Coast to Coast,” “Exit Speed,” “Management,” and “The Wild Stallion,” Ward did plenty of work on TV, including spots on “10.5,” “In Plain Sight,” “The United States of Tara,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Leverage,” and “True Detective.”

Ward spent the last years of his life developing his second favorite art form: painting.

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