Fred Dalton Thompson spent 25 years as an active Nashville and Washington, D.C., attorney before making his film debut playing himself in a 1985 retelling of the true tale of a Tennessee woman who took on the state's crooked governor in Marie. When Thompson won more acclaim than the film's stars Sissy Spacek and Jeff Daniels, he decided to add "character actor" to his resumé, and went on to appear in numerous major features. Standing 6'5," he was a commanding presence and was usually cast as an authoritarian. Thompson put his film career on hold when he made a successful bid to become a Tennessee senator in 1994, then picked up where he left off when his term ended, playing DA Arthur Branch on Law & Order, along with other supporting film roles. Thompson returned to politics with an attempt at the 2008 presidential election, but was unsuccessful, and soon resumed his acting career. He played horse breeder Arthur Hancock in Secretariat (2010) and appeared in the Hank Williams biopic The Last Ride (2011). One of his final acting roles was as an FBI Director in the short-lived NBC series Allegiance in 2015. Thompson died later that year, at age 73.
Biography by Sandra Brennan
- Served from 1973 to '74 as cochief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, an experience he wrote about in his memoir, At That Point in Time.
- Played a CIA director for his first on-screen role in the 1987 movie No Way Out.
- Represented Tennessee as a Republican U.S. Senator from 1994 to 2003.
- Named the 2001 Distinguished Alumnus of the Vanderbilt University Law School.
- Joined the cast of Law & Order in 2002 as conservative DA Arthur Branch, a role he also played in the show's several spin-offs.
- Announced his candidacy for the 2008 presidential election on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno September 5, 2007; as a result, he had to leave Law & Order to avoid a conflict with the equal-time television rule for presidential candidates.