NEW YORK — Fred Ward, a veteran actor who brought a gruff tenderness to tough-guy roles in such films as “The Right Stuff,” “The Player” and “Tremors,” has died. He was 79.
Ward earned a Golden Globe and shared the Venice Film Festival ensemble prize for his performance in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts,” and played the title character in “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.” He also reached new heights playing Mercury 7 astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom in 1983′s Academy Award-nominated film “The Right Stuff.”
“Devastated to learn about 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 tough façade covering emotions as deep as the Pacific Ocean. Godspeed amigo.”
A former boxer, lumberjack in Alaska and short-order cook who served in the U.S. Air Force, Ward was a San Diego native who was part Cherokee. One early big role was alongside Clint Eastwood in 1979’s “Escape From Alcatraz.”
“I mourn the loss of Fred Ward, who was so kind to me when we worked together on ‘Remo Williams,’” actor Kate Mulgrew tweeted. “Decent and modest and utterly professional, he disarmed with a smile that was at once warm and mischievous.”
Ward’s other roles included a rumpled cop chasing a psychotic criminal played by Alec Baldwin in George Armitage’s “Miami Blues.” He was a formidable and intimidating father to both Freddie Prinze Jr.’s character in “Summer Catch” and David Spade’s title character in “Joe Dirt.”
Ward played President Ronald Reagan in the 2009 Cold War espionage 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 paired with Kevin Bacon to play a pair of repairmen who end up saving a hardscrabble Nevada desert community beset by giant underground snakes.
With the sexually charged, NC-17 “Henry & June,” Ward showed more than just grit. Based on the book by Anais Nin and directed by Philip Kaufman, Ward played novelist Henry Miller, opposite Nin and his wife, June. “My rear end seemed to have something to do with (that rating),” he told The Washington Post.
He also reteamed 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’s workmate in Mike Nichols’ “Silkwood” in 1983.
Ward demonstrated his comedy chops playing a terrorist intent on blowing up the Academy Awards in “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult” in 1994.
On the small screen, he had recurring roles on NBC’s “ER” playing the father of Maura Tierney’s Abby Lockhart in 2006-2007 and guest starred on such series as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Leverage” and “United States of Tara.” Ward most recently appeared in 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, Django Ward.