Actor and Advocate Ken Howard Passes Away at the Age of 71

Posted by Leah on 3/27/2016 11:18:29 AM

        Actor Ken Howard died Wednesday, March 23, 2016, at the age of 71. He was a giant, both physically (at a height of 6’ 6”) and in the entertainment industry. He began his career in 1968 as many in entertainment do, with a role on Broadway in Promises, Promises. After appearing in several other Broadway roles, including 1776 and Child’s Play, he made the jump to television and film.
        His 47 year career and 109 acting credits included 50 TV show roles, including
The White Shadow, Murder She Wrote, The Colby’s, Dynasty, Melrose Place, The West Wing, Crossing Jordan and, most recently, 30 Rock and The McCarthy’s.
        Over the years he played judges, lawyers, executives, doctors, police officers, presidents and more in films including
Tell me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, Grey Gardens, Clear and Present Danger, The Net, Michael Clayton, J. Edgar and most recently The Wedding Ringer and the Oscar nominated film Joy.
         But perhaps what Howard will most be remembered for is his work off screen. He worked tirelessly as an advocate for all in the entertainment industry, and in 2009 was elected as the last president of the Screen Actors Guild. During his presidency he pushed to merge SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA. After his re-election as president of SAG in 2011, he made sure the merger went through, thus becoming the first president of SAG-AFTRA. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Howard said of the merger, “Although AFTRA was a good union, SAG was the dominant union, and Labor Law 101 is that you don't have two unions representing the same workers because employers will exploit the divide — and they did. There were some who wanted a war of sorts between the unions, but I always thought unions were stronger when they joined forces — look at the AFL-CIO. When unions work out their differences, they become more united, more monolithic and do a better job of representing their interests,” Howard said.
        In a statement to Variety, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said, “Anyone who ever met Ken knew of his devotion to acting and to his fellow actors.  Even as he achieved success in his own acting career, he never lost sight of the need to advocate for working actors.  At the bargaining table, Ken spoke sparingly, but eloquently and intelligently, in support of improvements in working conditions for actors.  It was no surprise that Ken became the leader of the movement to unite SAG and AFTRA, something that had twice been attempted — and twice failed –before he became President of the Screen Actors Guild.  It took someone with his forceful personality, considerable intelligence and immutable commitment to the betterment of working actors, broadcasters and recording artists to unite them in a single union.  This, together with his remarkable portrayals of characters on stage and screen, will become his enduring legacy — one fitting for such a remarkable man. We will miss him greatly.”

               At the moment it is unclear what, if any, ramifications Ken Howard’s death will have for SAG-AFTRA, as the organization mourns his loss. One thing is very clear though, he left some very big shoes to fill.