Fred Thompson's integrity won admiration from both sides of political aisle

The actor and former senator was known for his unbending principles and for a remarkable and eclectic career.

Steve Helber/AP/File
Former Sen. Fred Thompson speaks during an interview with the Associated Press prior to a fund raiser in Richmond, Va., June 2, 2007. Mr. Thompson, a folksy former Republican US senator from Tennessee who appeared in feature films and television including a role on 'Law & Order,' died Sunday, his family said.

He was charismatic and multifaceted, with a commanding voice that boomed from his 6-foot-6 frame. Perhaps it was these qualities that led Fred Thompson through his remarkable and eclectic career. The Tennessean was trained as a lawyer, but also served as prosecutor, a tough Senate counsel at the Watergate hearings, a Hollywood actor, and even a brief presidential hopeful.

The staunch conservative's death on Sunday prompted an outpouring of touching remembrances from fellow lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

"At a moment of history's choosing, Fred's extraordinary integrity while working with Senator Howard Baker on the Watergate Committee helped our nation find its way. I was deeply inspired by his matter-of-fact, no-nonsense moral courage in that crucible." Former Vice President Al Gore said.

While many prominent figures in the American political system have strategized their ascension to the hallowed halls nation's capitol since the early days of their youth, Thompson's path was more happenstance.

"If you'd have lined up everybody in the high school and said one of these will be a presidential candidate one of these days, he'd have been the last one picked," recalled Bobby Alford, president of the Lawrence County Historical Society, who coached Mr. Thompson at summer youth baseball, to The Christian Science Monitor in 2007.

Growing up in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., a factory town near the Alabama border, Thompson wasn't anyone's idea of an up-and-comer. His father, Fletcher, ran a used car lot, and his mother, Ruth, kept house; both were high-school dropouts. A strapping 6-foot-5, Thompson was a class clown better at basketball than books. The staff of his high-school yearbook captioned his photo, 'The lazier a man is, the more he plans to do tomorrow.'

But against all odds, Thompson stumbled into a great deal of his success, easily moving back-and-forth between politics and the big screen throughout his career. Having never held public office, Thompson overwhelmingly won a 1994 special election for Al Gore's old Senate seat. In 1996, he easily won a six-year term, reports the Associated Press.

He also appeared in at least 20 films and in a television role on the NBC drama series, "Law & Order." His film credits include "In the Line of Fire," ''The Hunt for Red October," ''Die Hard II," and "Cape Fear."

His death has drawn reactions from many of his former colleagues in Congress, some of which are included below:

  • "Very few people can light up the room the way Fred Thompson did. 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." – US Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee
  • "From the courtroom to Capitol Hill to Hollywood, his larger than life personality was infectious and had a way of making all of those around him strive to be better. Through his many different roles in public life, Fred never forgot where he came from, and our state and country miss his common sense approach to public service." – US Sen. Bob Corker (R) Tennessee
  • "Working at his side in the Senate for eight years, Fred embodied what has always been the best of Tennessee politics – he listened carefully and was happy to work across the aisle for causes that he believed were right." – Former US Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R) of Tennessee
  • "Fred Thompson lived life to the very fullest. The first in his family to go to college, Fred would go on to become Watergate lawyer, Senate colleague, presidential candidate, radio personality, and icon of silver and small screen alike who didn't just take on criminals as an actor but as a real-life prosecutor too." – Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky
  • "Our state has lost a larger-than-life figure. His quick wit, his hospitality, and his conservative beliefs reflected the best attributes of Tennessee." – Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes.
  • "Tennessee has lost a great statesman and one of her favorite sons." – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
  • "Despite our political differences, Fred was always encouraging to me and I valued our friendship. He led an eclectic life from his time as an outstanding congressional staffer during the Watergate hearings and as a fine attorney, actor and public servant." – US Rep. Steve Cohen (D) of Tennessee
  • "Over his long and accomplished career, he never forgot where he came from – he was a Tennessean through and through." – Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R)
  • "Whether it was on the screen or in the Senate, Fred always made you proud to be a Tennessean." – Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R)
  • "From his time as a young attorney on the Watergate Committee to his years in the United States Senate, Fred Thompson leaves behind an honorable legacy of public service." – Tennessee House minority leader Craig Fitzhugh (D)

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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