Passes away at 73: Fred Dalton Thompson

Published: November 2, 2015

Passes away at 73: Fred Dalton Thompson, “It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of grief that we share the passing of our brother, husband, father, and grandfather who died peacefully in Nashville surrounded by his family,” said a statement from the Thompson family on Sunday.

Thompson was elected to the Senate from Tennessee as a Republican in 1994, selected to fill out the remaining two years of the term of Vice President Al Gore. Driving around the state in a leased red pickup truck, he appealed to the voters as a conservative challenging the Clinton administration, and his victory with 60 percent of the vote on Gore’s home turf seemed to have great symbolic value. He won reelection easily in 1996 but opted not to run again in 2002.

In 2000, Thompson served as Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign co-chairman.

Thompson’s presidential bid in 2008 was short-lived. When he exited the race, fellow candidate Mitt Romney praised the former Tennessee senator for his conservative ideas.

“Throughout this campaign, Fred Thompson brought a laudable focus to the challenges confronting our country and the solutions necessary to meet them,” Romney said in a statement when Thompson dropped out. “He stood for strong conservative ideas and believed strongly in the need to keep our conservative coalition together.

By Hanna Trudo

Thompson’s brief foray into presidential politics ended Jan. 22, 2008, after a disappointing third-place showing in the South Carolina Republican primary. He had announced his campaign in September the year before. It was a quick ending for a candidate who, however briefly, was hyped as one of the more formidable candidates in the field.

But Thompson, then 65, didn’t live up to the high expectations from Republicans who thought he might be able to rally together the conservative wing of the party. He picked up endorsements of anti-abortion groups and gave a well-received speech before the National Rifle Association. Major figures within the GOP at the time including George Allen and fellow Tennessean Howard Baker helped lead his campaign. Liz Cheney, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, also co-chaired the campaign.

Still, Thompson, somewhat surprisingly didn’t perform well in debates and, the result was a quick exit. (McCain won the nomination.)

Thompson would later make light of his 2008 failure. In the introduction to his 2010 autobiography (“Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing Up and Second Chances”), he talked of the writing project that turned into his memoirs: “Naturally, I would also talk about my presidential campaign (described by one of my comedian friends as probably the most stressful three weeks of my life).”

Before his time as an actor and as a Republican lawmaker, Thompson was an attorney involved in the Watergate investigation that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. He was the committee counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee investigating Nixon, his first moments as a regular TV presence.

By Michael Kruse

Thompson, after getting his law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1967, worked as an assistant U.S. attorney and through that he met future Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander. Alexander would introduce him to Baker who would become a mentor to Thompson.

When Baker became the ranking Republican on the Senate’s Watergate Committee, the senator brought on Thompson as committee counsel.

“Very few people can light up the room the way Fred Thompson did,” Alexander said in a statement issued Sunday. “He used his magic as a lawyer, actor, Watergate counsel, and United States senator to become one of our country’s most principled and effective public servants. He was my friend for nearly fifty years. I will miss him greatly. Honey and I and our entire family send our love and sympathy to Jeri and the Thompson family.”

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