Fred Ward, who starred in such films as “Henry and June,” “Tremors,” “The Right Stuff” and “The Player,” died May 8, his publicist confirmed. Variety. He was 79 years old.
Among his other significant roles were roles in ‘Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins’, ‘Miami Blues’ and ‘Short Cuts’.
There was a certain retro quality to the actor’s personality that made Ward sound more like Humphrey Bogart or John Garfield (although not quite with the level of charisma of those actors) than his contemporaries, and that didn’t seem affected at all. He seemed like the kind of guy who came from the South Side of Chicago or Hell’s Kitchen, but he was actually from San Diego.
Ward most recently appeared on the second season of HBO’s “True Detective” as Eddie Velcoro, the retired detective father of Colin Farrell’s Det. Ray Velcoro.
He returned to NBC’s “ER” as the father of Maura Tierney’s Abby Lockhart in 2006-2007 and appeared on such series as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Leverage” and “United States of Tara.”
The actor played President Reagan in the 2009 Cold War spy thriller “Farewell,” directed by Christian Carion, and had a supporting role in 2013’s “2 Guns,” starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.
In Don Siegel’s “Escape From Alcatraz” (1979), Ward and Jack Thibeau played doomed brothers who are partnered with Clint Eastwood’s Frank Morris to engineer the so-called clever and daring escape from the Rock. (The three men’s bodies were never found, so it’s unclear if they really escaped or just drowned in San Francisco Bay.) The film was much more interested in the mechanics of escape only through the development of the three prisoners as characters. .
Ward brought his trademark courage to his portrayal of brave and intelligent astronaut Gus Grissom in 1983’s “The Right Stuff,” Philip Kaufman’s epic story about the early days of the space program. Perhaps because Grissom ultimately lost his life serving NASA (he was command pilot on Apollo 1, but before its launch on February 21, 1967, the interior of the command module caught fire and the three men in edge are dead), the public was particularly sensitive to the representation in “The Right Stuff”. The film chronicled the Project Mercury spacecraft incident in which the emergency explosive bolts fired after splashdown and blew the hatch, causing the ship to flood. A NASA investigation cleared Grissom of any blame in the incident, but the way it was portrayed in “The Right Stuff” suggested that Grissom de Ward panicked and fired the explosive bolts as a result.
In Ron Underwood’s horror-comedy Tremors, one of many films that boosted Ward’s career and was released in 1990, Ward and Kevin Bacon showed tremendous chemistry as a pair of handymen who end up save a Nevada desert community when the town is beset by giant underground snakes, much like the sandworms of “Dune”. The Bacon co-star shared a memory of Ward online writing, “When it came to battling underground worms, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. I will always remember talking about his love for Django Reinhardt and the jazz guitar on our long hot days in the high desert. Rest in peace Fred.”
“Tremors” only grossed $16 million, but it garnered huge affection from moviegoers on cable and home video and spawned six sequels and a TV series. The Washington Post said, “As DIYers, Bacon and Ward make a good team. Ward, who didn’t quite make it as superhero Remo Williams, has the rugged good looks and good humor of a friendly desperado, while Bacon continues to move beyond his boyish roots. glamor and prove himself as an actor.
In Alec Baldwin’s eccentric but painfully violent vehicle “Miami Blues”, Ward played Sgt. Hoke Moseley, the cop who’s after Baldwin’s sociopath Fred Frenger. Roger Ebert wrote: “The actors struggle valiantly with their roles. Baldwin, who is good at playing smart, isn’t so good here at playing an ex-con with a loose screw. Ward does a better job with the police sergeant; in movies like this and the underrated “UFO,” he sits and takes it all and plays the cynical who won’t really bother you unless you really bother him.
Later that year came “Henry & June,” a film that gave Ward the opportunity to stretch as an actor in a way he simply hadn’t had before. In the film, directed by Ward’s “The Right Stuff” director Philip Kaufman and based on the book by Anais Nin, the actor played renegade novelist Henry Miller, who pushed the boundaries in his writing from that which was acceptable in the exploration of sexuality. The film depicts the intellectual and psychosexual dynamic between Miller, his wife June (played by Uma Thurman) and the erotically engaged French novelist Nin in Paris in the early 1930s.
Variety said, “The central performances of Fred Ward, as the cynical and life-loving Miller, and Maria de Medeiros, as the beautiful and insatiable Anais, fulfill the director’s vision beautifully.”
Critics and moviegoers ended 1990 feeling Ward was an engaging actor with more range than previously suspected.
Then he played the role of Det. Harry Philip Lovecraft in the intriguing HBO movie “Cast a Deadly Spell,” set in dark 1940s Los Angeles in which supernatural abilities are rife. David Warner and Julianne Moore also starred in the film, which the Chicago Tribune called “highly successful”, stating that “screenwriter Joseph Dougherty concocted a menacingly charming environment”.
In Robert Altman’s 1992 Hollywood satire “The Player,” Roger Ebert said the director surrounds Tim Robbins’ Griffin “with the kind of eccentric characters who seem to be rolling in Los Angeles, as if the continent were on a slope: Whoopi Goldberg as a Pasadena police detective who finds Griffin hilarious, Fred Ward as the head of studio security who’s seen too many old “Dragnet” episodes, Sydney Pollack as a lawyer who does for the law what as Griffin does for the movies, Lyle Lovett as the sinister character who lurks on the fringes of many gatherings.
Also in 1992, Ward appeared in Alan Rudolph’s “Equinox.”
In 1993’s “Two Small Bodies,” a two-handed film directed by Beth B. and based on a play, the entire film relied on performances by Ward and Suzy Amis. The New York Times said, “‘Two Small Bodies’ is an intense, highly focused drama about a woman whose young son and daughter have disappeared, and the detective who thinks she may have murdered them. It doesn’t ere are not many actors capable of carrying a two-character movie, but Suzy Amis and Fred Ward are among the few who can.
In director Altman’s 1993 film “Short Cuts,” based on short stories by Raymond Carver, Ward was among the men whose fishing trip is cut short when they discover a corpse in the river.
Ward then played a terrorist intent on blowing up the Oscars in “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult” (1994).
Freddie Joe Ward was born in San Diego. He did a three-year stint in the Air Force, after which he developed an interest in acting and studied at the Herbert Berghof studio in New York. Ward then went to Europe, where he helped dub Italian films into English.
He made his screen debut in the 1973 miniseries “The Age of the Medici”, directed by Roberto Rossellini. He had a small role in the feature film “Ginger in the Morning” (1974), starring Monte Markham, Susan Oliver and Sissy Spacek. After a small role in “Tilt” (1979), with Brooke Shields, Ward tried his first major film role in “Escape From Alcatraz” the same year.
Ward starred with Powers Boothe and Keith Carradine in Walter Hill’s “Southern Comfort” (1981), which takes a band of arrogant National Guardsmen with guns loaded blank to the bayous of Louisiana, where they irritate the Cajuns, who know the area intimately. Despite the overly obvious metaphor for Vietnam, it was an effective thriller.
The following year, he had his first starring role in the cult classic “Timerider,” in which he played Lyle Swann, an off-road motorcycle racer (in a bright red leather bike suit) who is accidentally fired via a science experiment in a Wild West. filled with villains and female distractions. The movie didn’t do much for Ward’s career, as his fan didn’t find out about it until later on cable and home video.
Reviewing the 1982 film for DVD Verdict in 2001, Patrick Naugle wrote, “‘Timerider’ is filled with colorful and fun performances. Fred Ward is an underused and underrated actor, a regular guy who can deliver dialogue with a new slant that works for many of his characters. Here, Ward plays Swann as a laid-back runner, a guy who just wants to get home with minimal trouble with his surroundings.
After “The Right Stuff,” he had a supporting role in “Silkwood” as a tongue-in-cheek Native American “who likes to tell demeaning Indian jokes,” in the words of critic Glenn Erickson, and in the movie. Goldie Hawn’s World War II “Swing Shift,” in which he plays the nightclub owner with whom Christine Lahti’s character is having an affair.
Ward also appeared in the movie “Off Limits,” starring Willem Defoe and Gregory Hines as military detectives in Saigon during the Vietnam War on the hunt for a sadomasochistic killer. Variety said, “Fred Ward is especially good as the superior of partners, Master Sgt. Ten.
“Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” (1985), which came after “The Right Stuff”, was an attempt to make Ward an action star, but it was criticized and the film’s domestic gross was not than $14 million. But although he never became an action star, many of his best roles were still ahead of him.
He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Marie-France Ward and his son Django Ward.
Donations can be made to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.