Lynne Thigpen, 1948-2003

By Nancy Miller
Updated March 28, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Whereas most actors worry about range, Lynne Thigpen’s career was boundless. Until her unexpected death on March 12 in Los Angeles (the cause is unknown, pending autopsy results), the 54-year-old District star moved effortlessly among theater, movies, and TV.

In 1971, Thigpen left Joliet, Ill., for New York, where she landed a role in Godspell. She went on to star in several Broadway and Off Broadway productions, picking up two Obies and a Tony (for 1997’s An American Daughter).

With recurring roles on L.A. Law and thirtysomething, and memorable turns in Tootsie (1982) and Lean on Me (1989), as well as a part in the upcoming comedy Anger Management, Thigpen was ”just one of those people whose work you really know and admire,” says Morgan Freeman, a friend from their days in theater.

But perhaps it was her role as the Chief — the gruff gumshoe of PBS’ children’s game shows Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (1991-96) and Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? (1996-98) — that won Thigpen her most devoted audience.

Craig T. Nelson, her costar of three seasons on CBS’ The District, said, ”I’m in shock.” Shooting has been delayed as producers figure out how to rework the season’s final episodes, which focus on her character, Ella Farmer. ”Lynne was a really important part of the show,” says CBS spokeswoman Beth Haiken. ”We’re working on a way to pay tribute to our friend and colleague.”