Fred Ward

Fred Ward

Fred Ward was born in 1942 in San Diego.   His films include “Tremors” in 1990, “The Right Stuff” and “Shirt Cuts”.   Fred Ward died in 2022 aged 79.

TCM Overview:

With his varied work experiences, this rough-hewn character lead excels at playing blue collar types and working class heroes. Ward worked in mime and masque theater and performed in cabarets in Europe and Northern Africa before moving to Rome where he translated spaghetti Westerns and appeared in two TV-movies directed by seminal Italian neorealist filmmaker Roberto Rossellini–“The Power of Cosimo” (1974) and “Cartesia” (1975). After some lean times in LA (where he supported himself selling jewelry on the street), Ward made his feature debut as a jailbreak buddy of the even craggier Clint Eastwood in Don Siegel’s “Escape From Alcatraz” (1979).

Ward’s rugged looks worked well in action adventure films: Walter Hill’s “Southern Comfort” (1981), a creepy tale of macho part-time National Guardsmen facing peril in the Louisiana bayou; “Timerider: The Adventures of Lyle Swann” (1982), wherein he played a motocross bike racer transported to the Old West; and “Uncommon Valor” (1983), as a member of Gene Hackman’s crew of commandos on a rescue mission in Laos. He received positive notices as astronaut Gus Grissom in Philip Kaufman’s “The Right Stuff” (1983) and went on to work regularly in films and TV throughout the 80s and 90s. Ward starred in “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” (1985). Directed by veteran Bond helmer Guy Hamilton (“Goldfinger” 1964), this was a failed but valiant attempt to start an action franchise. He was also Kevin Bacon’s partner in “Tremors” (1990), a jaunty 50s-style monster flick. Ward starred in and served as co-executive producer on “Miami Blues” (1990), a cop thriller/black-comedy which featured dynamic performances from co-stars Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Ward reteamed with Kaufman to play Henry Miller in the controversial “Henry and June” (1990). He appeared in three ambitious 1992 films: Michael Apted’s “Thunderheart”; Robert Altman’s “The Player” (as the studio security head); and Tim Robbins’ “Bob Roberts” (as a news anchor). Ward also played an underworld kingpin in Alan Rudolph’s quirky mystery, “Equinox” (1993).

The above TCM overview can be accessed online here.

Fred Ward obituary in The Telegraph in 2022.

Fred Ward, who has died aged 79, was a dependable character actor who achieved familiarity, if not quite stardom, during the golden age of home video.

Born of Scots Irish and Cherokee descent, he only found regular employment in his forties after two decades of real-world slog, including spells as a cook, a lumberjack and a tomato picker. “My career has been a bit strange,” he admitted to one journalist. “I don’t think it took the normal route.”

Yet experience gave his work a grounded, lived-in quality to which audiences warmed. His speciality was grizzled, frowning, blue-collar men’s-men who peered at the modern world through sceptical eyes but who invariably had the goods to save the day as the final credits neared.

Ironically, in his breakthrough role – Virgil “Gus” Grissom in Philip Kaufman’s stirring astronaut saga The Right Stuff (1983) – Ward was seen to come up short in the heroism stakes, which drew criticism from Grissom’s real-life Nasa contemporaries (Wally Schirra described the film’s Grissom as “a bungling sort of coward”). Yet the crumpled machismo Ward evoked outside his spacesuit formed its own tribute to those left behind as the space race heated up.

By complete contrast, there was Tremors (1990), a likable, enduring monster movie about a small Nevadan town called Perfection that finds itself undermined by giant killer worms. Kevin Bacon took top billing, but his joshing, affectionate relationship with Ward as fellow handyman Earl Bassett gave the film its heart. Upon learning of Ward’s passing, Bacon paid his co-star the fondest of farewells: “When it came to battling underground worms, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.”

He was born Freddie Joe Ward on December 30 1942 in San Diego, California, to Fred Frazier Ward and his wife Juanita (née Flemister). It was an itinerant childhood: after his mother’s death, the teenage Fred was sent to live with an aunt in New Orleans.

He served in the US Air Force, during which he boxed at amateur level – breaking his nose four times – and eventually had a revelation about the life he wanted to lead.

“I was going [out] with a stripper in San Antonio, hanging out with some bizarre fringe people who considered themselves ‘show people’, including this 250lb transvestite who designed costumes for strip joints, and a few gangsters… They weren’t role models in a strict sense, more like the old freaks in the freak show. When I was younger, I always felt like an outsider, and they said it was all right to be ‘the other’. They had a nice little society, a little culture, and they dealt with life.”

As Walter Stuckel, studio head of security, in Robert Altman's Hollywood satire The Player (1992)
As Walter Stuckel, studio head of security, in Robert Altman’s Hollywood satire The Player (1992) CREDIT: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

He headed for New York, studying acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio while supporting himself with janitorial and construction jobs. Six months later, Ward departed for Europe, drawn by the new opportunities available to American performers. In Rome, he dubbed spaghetti Westerns into English before landing minor roles in Roberto Rossellini’s miniseries The Age of the Medici (1973) and Cartesius (1974).

Returning to the US, Ward dabbled in experimental theatre before landing more typical work as a trucker in the 1974 hitchhiking drama Ginger in the Morning. One-off episodes of Quincy in 1978 and The Incredible Hulk in 1979 followed before his first significant role as John Anglin, one of Clint Eastwood’s fellow escapees in Escape from Alcatraz (1979).

He met a sticky end in Walter Hill’s taut Southern Comfort (1981) and was often cast in tough, meaty, dramatic roles: The Right Stuff, Silkwood, Uncommon Valour (both 1983), a suavely brutish club owner in Swing Shift (1984). But several of his choices revealed a wry comic streak. Few fortysomethings would have committed as hard as Ward did to Timerider (1982), a genuine curio (co-written by the ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith) about a time-travelling biker.

With Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Miami Blues (1990)
With Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Miami Blues (1990) CREDIT: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

He beat out the then-unknown Bruce Willis to land the title role in Remo: Unarmed and Dangerous (1985), the first of a planned trilogy of action films. But despite multiple magazine covers positioning Ward as a new, blue-collar James Bond and a memorable Statue of Liberty climax, the film nosedived commercially, recouping only $14 million of its $40 million budget.

Tremors steadied him, however, and two other 1990 parts demonstrated Ward’s range: the careworn shamus Hoke Moseley in the blackly comic thriller Miami Blues and Henry Miller in Kaufman’s elegant period love triangle Henry & June, a role for which Ward shaved his head, adopted blue contact lenses and gamely watched Uma Thurman and Maria de Medeiros compete for his attentions.

One more notable lead role followed, as P I Harry Philip Lovecraft in the made-for-cable horror-noir Cast a Deadly Spell (1991). Thereafter, Ward resumed supporting gigs, boosting the Robert Altman comeback (The Player, 1992, and Short Cuts, 1994), threatening to blow up the Oscars (in Naked Gun 33⅓, 1994), and even slotting between Brian Conley and Christopher Biggins in the dire Britpic Circus (2000).

He paused acting in the early Noughties, returning only for guest spots, in ER (2006-07) and True Detective (2015), and as Ronald Reagan in the retro potboiler Farewell (2009). Mostly, he devoted himself to painting, perhaps feeling the entertainment landscape shifting beneath his feet. His final credit remains unseen: a cameo in a Tremors spin-off, cancelled by the Syfy network before its 2017 pilot aired.

In 1990, Ward was asked what he found most compelling about Henry Miller. “People are burdened by their futures, their jobs, their accumulating,” he replied. “Everyone says, ‘I wish I could do that, just take off, experiment with life’… [Miller] was 40 when he took that big leap. Most people are digging themselves deeper into their structures. He was a man who knew he had to follow that inner urge, the creativity, and the passion. Or he would die bitter.”

Fred Ward’s first marriage, to Carla, lasted a year. He married, secondly, Silvia, with whom he had a son, who survives him. He is also survived by his third wife, Marie-France.

Fred Ward, born December 30 1942, died May 8 2022

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