Fred Thompson
Credit: John Lamparski/WireImage

Fred D. Thompson, former U.S. senator for Tennessee and successful actor with more than 50 credits to his name, died on Sunday, his family confirmed to the Tennessean. He was 73.

“It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of grief that we share the passing of our brother, husband, father, and grandfather who died peacefully in Nashville surrounded by his family,” his family said in a statement. The family cited a “recurrence of lymphoma” as cause of death.

Thompson was born in Alabama in 1942, but attended school in Tennessee and earned a double degree in philosophy and political science from Memphis State. After beginning his law career in 1967, Thompson was appointed Republican counsel to the Watergate committee investigating Richard Nixon and the White House in 1973. Nixon was quoted as saying Thompson was “dumb as hell,” but Thompson won nationwide praise for his work on the committee after asking White House aide Alexander Butterfield if Nixon had an audio-recording system in the Oval Office. (He did.)

“Legalisms aside, it was inconceivable to me that the White House could withhold the tapes once their existence was made known,” Thompson wrote in his book At that Point in Time: The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee.

In the ’80s, Thompson began acting. First as himself in 1985’s Marie, which was based on a case he worked on as an attorney in Tennessee, and then later in such films as No Way Out, Feds, The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Cape Fear, Days of Thunder, Necessary Roughness, and In the Line of Fire. On television, Thompson guest-starred on China Beach, Roseanne, Wiseguy, Matlock, and Sex and the City. In 2002, he appeared on Law & Order as D.A. Arthur Branch, a role he would play on 116 episodes of the show (and in other appearances on spinoffs Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Trial By Jury).

Before the stint on Law & Order, however, Thompson was a Republican senator for the state of Tennessee for eight years. Thompson was elected in 1994 to replace Al Gore, who had just become vice president. He won reelection in 1996, and served for six years until 2002. In 2007, Thompson was among the Republicans vying for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination that eventually went to John McCain. (He dropped out of the race in early 2008.)

Thompson was never far from the screen despite his deep political roots: He appeared on episodes of The Good Wife and Allegiance in recent years, and last appeared onscreen in 90 Minutes in Heaven, a drama starring Kate Bosworth and Hayden Christiansen that was released in September.