Credit: Lee Celano/AP file

Ken Howard, the veteran character actor who starred in such TV series as The White Shadow, Crossing Jordan, and 30 Rock and served as president of the performers union SAG-AFTRA, died Wednesday at his home near Los Angeles. He was 71.

SAG-AFTRA announced the news.

A blond-haired, blue-eyed former athlete who stood 6-foot-6½, Howard was best known for playing Ken Reeves on the CBS series The White Shadow. Based on his own experiences as the only white player on his high school basketball squad, the show starred Howard as the coach of a mostly black team at an inner-city school. It debuted in 1978 and ran for three seasons.

During an acting career of nearly 50 years, Howard played a retired police detective on Crossing Jordan and a cable company CEO on 30 Rock, and he won an Emmy for playing the white-shoe attorney Phelan Beale in HBO’s Grey Gardens movie. His other TV credits include The Manhunter, Dynasty, Boston Legal, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and The West Wing.

He appeared in dozens of films, including 1776, Clear and Present Danger, Rambo IV, Michael Clayton, J. Edgar, and Joy, and also worked on stage, winning a Tony Award in 1970 for Child’s Play.

Howard was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 2009 and championed the group’s merger with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which was approved by members in 2012.

Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA’s acting president, said in a statement Wednesday, “Ken was an inspirational leader and it is an incredible loss for SAG-AFTRA, for his family and for everyone who knew him. He was a light that never dimmed and was completely devoted to the membership. He led us through tumultuous times and set our union on a steady course of excellence. We will be forever in his debt.”