Fred Thompson

Last updated

Fred Thompson
Fred Thompson.jpg
United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
December 2, 1994 January 3, 2003
Preceded by Harlan Mathews
Succeeded by Lamar Alexander
Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
In office
January 20, 2001 June 6, 2001
Preceded by Joe Lieberman
Succeeded byJoe Lieberman
In office
January 3, 1997 January 3, 2001
Preceded by Ted Stevens
Succeeded byJoe Lieberman
Personal details
Freddie Dalton Thompson

(1942-08-19)August 19, 1942
Sheffield, Alabama, U.S.
DiedNovember 1, 2015(2015-11-01) (aged 73)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Resting placeMimosa Cemetery
Lawrenceburg, Tennessee
Political party Republican
Sarah Knestrick
(m. 1959;div. 1985)

Jeri Kehn
(m. 2002)
Education University of North Alabama
Memphis State University (BA)
Vanderbilt University (JD)
Signature Fred Thompson signature.gif

Freddie Dalton Thompson [1] [2] [3] (August 19, 1942 – November 1, 2015), better known as Fred Thompson, was an American politician, attorney, lobbyist, columnist, actor and radio personality. Thompson, a Republican, served in the United States Senate representing Tennessee from 1994 to 2003, and was a Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

Republican Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Republican Party, also referred to as the GOP, is one of the two major political parties in the United States; the other is its historic rival, the Democratic Party.

United States Senate Upper house of the United States Congress

The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress which, along with the United States House of Representatives—the lower chamber—comprises the legislature of the United States. The Senate chamber is located in the north wing of the Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C.

Tennessee U.S. state in the United States

Tennessee is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is the 36th largest and the 16th most populous of the 50 United States. Tennessee is bordered by eight states, with Kentucky to the north, Virginia to the northeast, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south, Arkansas to the west, and Missouri to the northwest. The Appalachian Mountains dominate the eastern part of the state, and the Mississippi River forms the state's western border. Nashville is the state's capital and largest city, with a 2017 population of 667,560 and a 2017 metro population of 1,903,045. Tennessee's second largest city is Memphis, which had a population of 652,236 in 2017.


Thompson served as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board at the United States Department of State, was a member of the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and was a Visiting Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, specializing in national security and intelligence. [4] [5] [6]

United States Department of State United States federal executive department responsible for foreign affairs

The United States Department of State (DOS), commonly referred to as the State Department, is a federal executive department responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy and international relations. Established in 1789 as the nation's first executive department, its duties include advising the U.S. President, administering the nation's diplomatic missions, negotiating treaties and agreements with foreign entities, and representing the U.S. at the United Nations.

Council on Foreign Relations think tank specializing in U.S. foreign policy and international affairs

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), founded in 1921, is a United States nonprofit think tank specializing in U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. It is headquartered in New York City, with an additional office in Washington, D.C. Its membership, which numbers 4,900, has included senior politicians, more than a dozen secretaries of state, CIA directors, bankers, lawyers, professors and senior media figures. It is known for its neoconservative and neoliberal leanings.

American Enterprise Institute American think tank

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, known simply as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank that researches government, politics, economics, and social welfare. AEI is an independent nonprofit organization supported primarily by grants and contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals.

As an actor, Thompson appeared in a number of movies and television shows including The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard 2 , In the Line of Fire , and Cape Fear, as well as in commercials. He frequently portrayed governmental authority figures and military men. [7] In the final months of his U.S. Senate term in 2002, Thompson joined the cast of the NBC television series Law & Order , playing Manhattan District Attorney Arthur Branch. [8]

<i>The Hunt for Red October</i> (film) 1990 film directed by John McTiernan

The Hunt for Red October is a 1990 American submarine spy-thriller film directed by John McTiernan, produced by Mace Neufeld, and starring Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, and Sam Neill. The film is an adaptation of Tom Clancy's 1984 bestselling novel of the same name. It is the first instalment of the Jack Ryan film series.

<i>Die Hard 2</i> 1990 film by Renny Harlin

Die Hard 2 is a 1990 American action thriller film and the second installment in the Die Hard film series. The film was released on July 4, 1990 in the United States. The film was directed by Renny Harlin, written by Steven E. deSouza and Doug Richardson and stars Bruce Willis as John McClane. The film co-stars Bonnie Bedelia, William Sadler, Art Evans, William Atherton, Franco Nero, Dennis Franz, Fred Thompson, John Amos and Reginald VelJohnson.

<i>In the Line of Fire</i> 1993 thriller movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen

In the Line of Fire is a 1993 American political thriller film, directed by Wolfgang Petersen and starring Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich and Rene Russo. Written by Jeff Maguire, the film is about a disillusioned and obsessed former CIA agent who attempts to assassinate the President of the United States and the Secret Service agent who tracks him. Eastwood's character is the sole active-duty Secret Service agent remaining from the detail guarding John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, at the time of his assassination in 1963. The film also stars Dylan McDermott, Gary Cole, John Mahoney, and Fred Thompson.

Early life

Thompson was born in Sheffield, Alabama, on August 19, 1942, the son of Ruth Inez (née Bradley) and Fletcher Session Thompson (born Lauderdale County, Alabama, August 26, 1919, died Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, May 27, 1990), who was an automobile salesman. Thompson had English and distant Dutch ancestry. [9] [10] He attended public school in Lawrenceburg, graduating from Lawrence County High School, where he played high-school football. [11] Thereafter, he worked days in the local post office, and nights at the Murray bicycle assembly plant. [12]

Sheffield, Alabama City in Alabama, United States

Sheffield is a city in Colbert County, Alabama, United States, and is included in the Shoals metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 9,039. Sheffield is the birthplace of "country-soul pioneer" and songwriter Arthur Alexander, French horn player Willie Ruff, notable attorney, actor, former senator and presidential contender Fred Thompson, Watergate committee U.S. Senator Howell Heflin and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, whose father was working in nearby Athens when he was born. It sometimes is referred to as "the City of Senators" due to the births of Heflin, McConnell and Thompson within its borders. Col. Harland Sanders worked in the Sheffield depot for Southern Railway in the 1900s. It is also home to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio where many popular 20th century musicians recorded their work, including Alexander and Ruff. It is the site of historic Helen Keller Hospital, formerly known as Colbert County Hospital and originally constructed in 1921. It was changed to Helen Keller Hospital in 1979, and Keller's birthplace Ivy Green is located less than one mile southwest of the hospital in adjacent Tuscumbia.

Lauderdale County, Alabama County in the United States

Lauderdale County is a county located in the northwestern corner of the U.S. state of Alabama. As of the 2010 census the population was 92,709. Its county seat is Florence. Its name is in honor of Colonel James Lauderdale, of Tennessee.

Lawrenceburg, Tennessee City in Tennessee, United States

Lawrenceburg is a city in and the county seat of Lawrence County, Tennessee, United States, The largest city on the state's southern border between Chattanooga and Memphis, it lies on the banks of Shoal Creek. The population was 10,428 at the 2010 United States Census. The city is named after War of 1812 American Navy officer James Lawrence.

Thompson then entered Florence State College (now the University of North Alabama), becoming the first member of his family to attend college. [13] He later transferred to Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis, where he earned a double degree in philosophy and political science in 1964, as well as scholarships to both Tulane and Vanderbilt law schools. [12] He went on to earn his Juris Doctor degree from the Vanderbilt Law School in 1967. [13]

University of North Alabama university in Florence, Alabama, USA

The University of North Alabama (UNA) is a coeducational university located in Florence, Alabama. It is the state's oldest four-year public university. Occupying a 130-acre (0.5 km2) campus in a residential section of Florence, UNA is located within a four-city area that also includes Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Muscle Shoals. The four cities compose a metropolitan area with a combined population of 140,000 people.

University of Memphis Public research university in Memphis, Tennessee, USA

The University of Memphis, colloquially known as U of M, is a public research university in Memphis, Tennessee. Founded in 1912, the university has an enrollment of more than 21,000 students.

Double degree A degree in two different fields conferred at the same time.

A double degree program, sometimes called a dual degree, combined degree, conjoint degree, joint degree, simultaneous degree or double graduation program, involves a student’s working for two university degrees in parallel—either at the same institution or at different institutions —and completing them in less time than it would have taken to earn them separately. The two degrees might be in the same subject area, or in two different subjects.

Career as an attorney

Thompson was admitted to the state bar of Tennessee in 1967. At that time, he shortened his first name from Freddie to Fred. [14] He worked as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1969 to 1972, [15] successfully prosecuting bank robberies and other cases. [12] Thompson was the campaign manager for Republican U.S. Senator Howard Baker's re-election campaign in 1972, and was minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee in its investigation of the Watergate scandal (1973–1974).

Bar (law)

In law, the bar is the legal profession as an institution. The term is a metonym for the line that separates the parts of a courtroom reserved for spectators and those reserved for participants in a trial such as lawyers.

United States Attorney chief prosecutor representing the United States federal government

United States attorneys represent the United States federal government in United States district courts and United States courts of appeals.

Howard Baker American politician

Howard Henry Baker Jr. was an American politician and diplomat who served as a United States Senator from Tennessee from 1967 to 1985. During his tenure, he rose to the rank of Senate Minority Leader and then Senate Majority Leader. A member of the Republican Party, Baker was the first Republican to be elected to the US Senate in Tennessee since the Reconstruction era.

In the 1980s, Thompson worked as an attorney, with law offices in Nashville and Washington, DC, [16] handling personal injury claims and defending people accused of white collar crimes. [17] He also accepted appointments as special counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (1980–1981), special counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee (1982), and member of the Appellate Court Nominating Commission for the State of Tennessee (1985–1987). [12] [13]

His clients included a German mining group and Japan's Toyota Motors Corporation. [18] Thompson served on various corporate boards. He also did legal work and served on the board of directors for engineering firm Stone & Webster. [19]

Role in Watergate hearings

From left to right: Fred Thompson (minority counsel), Howard Baker, and Sam Ervin of the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973 ThompsonWatergate.jpg
From left to right: Fred Thompson (minority counsel), Howard Baker, and Sam Ervin of the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973

In 1973, Thompson was appointed minority counsel to assist the Republican senators on the Senate Watergate Committee, a special committee convened by the U.S. Senate to investigate the Watergate scandal. [20] Thompson was sometimes credited for supplying Republican Senator Howard Baker's famous question, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" [21] This question is said to have helped frame the hearings in a way that eventually led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. [22]

A Republican staff member, Donald Sanders, found out about the White House tapes and informed the committee on July 13, 1973. Thompson was informed of the existence of the tapes, and he, in turn, informed Nixon's attorney, J. Fred Buzhardt. [23] "Even though I had no authority to act for the committee, I decided to call Fred Buzhardt at home," Thompson later wrote, [24] "I wanted to be sure that the White House was fully aware of what was to be disclosed so that it could take appropriate action."

Three days after Sanders's discovery, at a public, televised committee hearing, Thompson asked former White House aide Alexander Butterfield the famous question, "Mr. Butterfield, were you aware of the existence of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the President?" thereby publicly revealing the existence of tape recordings of conversations within the White House. [18] [20] National Public Radio later called that session and the discovery of the Watergate tapes "a turning point in the investigation." [25]

Thompson's appointment as minority counsel to the Senate Watergate committee reportedly upset Nixon, who believed Thompson was not skilled enough to interrogate unfriendly witnesses and would be outfoxed by the committee Democrats. According to historian Stanley Kutler, however, Thompson and Baker "carried water for the White House, but I have to give them credit—they were watching out for their interests, too ... They weren't going to mindlessly go down the tubes [for Nixon]." [21]

Journalist Scott Armstrong, a Democratic investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee, is critical of Thompson for having disclosed the committee's knowledge of the tapes to Buzhardt during an ongoing investigation, and says Thompson was "a mole for the White House" and that Thompson's actions gave the White House a chance to destroy the tapes. Thompson's 1975 book At That Point in Time, in turn, accused Armstrong of having been too close to The Washington Post 's Bob Woodward and of leaking committee information to him. In response to renewed interest in this matter, in 2007 during his presidential campaign, Thompson said, "I'm glad all of this has finally caused someone to read my Watergate book, even though it's taken them over 30 years." [26]

Corruption case against Tennessee governor

In 1977, Thompson represented Marie Ragghianti, a former Tennessee Parole Board chair, who had been fired for refusing to release felons after they had bribed aides to Democratic Governor Ray Blanton to obtain clemency. [27] With Thompson's assistance, Ragghianti filed a wrongful termination suit against Blanton's office. During the trial, Thompson helped expose the cash-for-clemency scheme that eventually led to Blanton's removal from office. [18] In July 1978, a jury awarded Ragghianti $38,000 ($139,165.09 in 2016 inflation rate) [28] in back pay and ordered her reinstatement. [27]


Thompson greeting President Ronald Reagan in 1983 Reagan Contact Sheet C17322 (cropped).jpg
Thompson greeting President Ronald Reagan in 1983

Thompson earned about $1 million in total from his lobbying efforts. Except for the year 1981, his lobbying never amounted to more than one-third of his income. [29] According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal :

Fred Thompson earned about half a million dollars from Washington lobbying from 1975 through 1993  ... Lobbyist disclosure records show Thompson had six lobbying clients: Westinghouse, two cable television companies, the Tennessee Savings and Loan League, the Teamsters Union's Central States Pension Fund, and a Baltimore-based business coalition that lobbied for federal grants. [29]

Thompson lobbied Congress on behalf of the Tennessee Savings and Loan League to pass the Garn–St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, which deregulated the savings and loan industry. [18] A large congressional majority and President Ronald Reagan supported the act, but it was said to be a factor that led to the savings and loan crisis. [30] Thompson received $1,600 for communicating with some congressional staffers on this issue. [29]

When Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 1991, Thompson made a telephone call to White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu advocating restoration of Aristide's government, but says that was as a private citizen, not on a paid basis on Aristide's behalf. [31]

Billing records show that Thompson was paid for about 20 hours of work in 1991 and 1992 on behalf of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, a family planning group trying to ease a George H. W. Bush administration regulation on abortion counseling in federally funded clinics. [32] [33]

After leaving the Senate in 2003, Thompson's only lobbying work was for the London-based reinsurance company Equitas Ltd. He was paid $760,000 between 2004 and 2006 to help prevent passage of legislation that Equitas said unfairly singled them out for unfavorable treatment regarding asbestos claims. [19] Thompson spokesman Mark Corrallo said that Thompson was proud to have been a lobbyist and believed in Equitas' cause. [34]

After Thompson was elected to the Senate, two of his sons followed him into the lobbying business, but generally avoided clients where a possible conflict of interest might appear. [35] When he left the Senate, some of his political action committee's fees went to the lobbying firm of one of his sons. [36]

Acting career

Marie Ragghianti's case became the subject of a book, Marie, written by Peter Maas and published in 1983. The film rights were purchased by director Roger Donaldson, who, after traveling to Nashville to speak with the people involved with the original case, asked Thompson if he wanted to play himself. The resulting film, Marie , was Thompson's first acting role and was released in 1985. Roger Donaldson then cast Thompson in the part of CIA director in the 1987 film No Way Out . [37] In 1990, he was cast as Ed Trudeau, the head of Dulles Airport, in the action sequel Die Hard 2 , as Rear Admiral Painter in The Hunt for Red October , and as Big John, the President of NASCAR, in the movie Days of Thunder (patterned on Big Bill France). Thompson went on to appear in many films and television shows. A 1994 New York Times profile wrote, "When Hollywood directors need someone who can personify governmental power, they often turn to [Thompson]." [7] He portrayed a fictional President of the United States in Last Best Chance , as well as two historical presidents: Ulysses S. Grant in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007) and the voice of Andrew Jackson in Rachel and Andrew Jackson: A Love Story (both produced for TV). [38]

In the final months of his U.S. Senate term in 2002, Thompson joined the cast of the NBC television series Law & Order, playing conservative District Attorney Arthur Branch for the next five years. Thompson began filming during the August 2002 Senate recess. [12] He made occasional appearances in the same role on other TV shows, such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit , Law & Order: Criminal Intent , and the pilot episode of Conviction . On May 30, 2007, he asked to be released from the role, potentially in preparation for a presidential bid. [8] Due to concerns about the equal-time rule, reruns featuring the Branch character were not shown on NBC while Thompson was a potential or actual presidential candidate, but TNT episodes were unaffected. [39]

In May 2007, he took a break from acting to run for the Republican nomination for president in the 2008 election, winning 11 delegates before dropping out of the race in January 2008. In 2009, he returned to acting with a guest appearance on the ABC television series Life on Mars [40] and in the movie Alleged, about the Scopes Trial. [41]

Senate (1994–2003)

Two campaigns for U.S. Senate

Fred Thompson campaigning for U.S. Senate in 2002 Fred Thompson speaking.jpg
Fred Thompson campaigning for U.S. Senate in 2002

In 1994, Thompson was elected to finish the remaining two years of Al Gore's unexpired U.S. Senate term. During the 1994 campaign, Thompson's opponent was longtime Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper. Thompson campaigned in a red pickup truck, and Cooper charged Thompson "is a lobbyist and actor who talks about lower taxes, talks about change, while he drives a rented stage prop." [42] In a good year for Republican candidates, [43] Thompson defeated Cooper in a landslide, overcoming Cooper's early 20% lead in the polls to defeat him by an even greater margin. [44] On the same night Thompson was elected to fill Gore's unexpired term, political newcomer Bill Frist, a Nashville heart surgeon, defeated three-term incumbent Democrat Jim Sasser, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, for Tennessee's other Senate seat, which was up for a full six-year term. The twin victories by Thompson and Frist gave Republicans control of both of Tennessee's Senate seats for the first time since Sasser ousted incumbent Bill Brock in 1976.

In 1996, Thompson was re-elected (for the term ending January 3, 2003) with 61% of the vote, defeating Democratic attorney Houston Gordon of Covington, Tennessee, even as Bill Clinton and running mate Al Gore narrowly carried the state by less than three percentage points on their way to re-election. [45] During this campaign, Mike Long served as Thompson's chief speechwriter. [46] The GOP continues to hold the seat, as it was won by former Tennessee Governor and Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in 2002. Frist won re-election in 2000 before retiring in 2006, when Bob Corker held the seat for the Republicans despite the Democrats winning control of the House and Senate.

Electoral history

Tennessee United States Senate Election, 1996
Republican Fred Thompson (Incumbent)1,091,55461.37%+0.93%
Democratic Houston Gordon654,93736.82%
Independent John Jay Hooker 14,4010.81%
Republican hold Swing
Tennessee United States Senate Election, 1994 (Special)
Republican Fred Thompson885,99860.44%
Democratic Jim Cooper 565,93038.61%
Republican gain from Democratic Swing

Senate career

Senator Thompson meeting with U.S. soldiers in South Korea, 2001 Troops.JPG
Senator Thompson meeting with U.S. soldiers in South Korea, 2001

In 1996, Thompson was a member of the Committee on Governmental Affairs when the committee investigated the alleged Chinese attempts to influence American politics. Thompson says he was "largely stymied" during these investigations by witnesses declining to testify, claiming the right not to incriminate themselves or by simply leaving the country. [47] Thompson explained, "Our work was affected tremendously by the fact that Congress is a much more partisan institution than it used to be." [48]

Thompson became committee chairman in 1997, but was reduced to ranking minority member when the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2001. [49] Thompson served on the Finance Committee (dealing with health care, trade, Social Security, and taxation), the Intelligence Committee, and the National Security Working Group. [50]

Thompson's work included investigation of the "Umm Hajul controversy" which involved the death of Tennessean Lance Fielder during the Gulf War. During his term, he supported campaign finance reform, opposed proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and promoted government efficiency and accountability. [12] During the 1996 presidential debates, he also served as a Clinton stand-in to help prepare Bob Dole. [12]

On February 12, 1999, the Senate voted on the Clinton impeachment. The perjury charge was defeated with 45 votes for conviction, and 55, including Thompson, against. The obstruction of justice charge was defeated with 50, including Thompson, for conviction, and 50 against. Conviction on impeachment charges requires the affirmative votes of 67 senators.

Campaign co-chairman for John McCain

In the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, Thompson backed former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, who eventually succeeded Thompson in the Senate two years later. When Alexander dropped out, Thompson endorsed Senator John McCain's bid and became his national co-chairman. [51] After George W. Bush won the primaries, both McCain and Thompson were considered as potential running mates. [52] [53]

Thompson was not a candidate for re-election in 2002. He had publicly stated his unwillingness to have the Senate become a long-term career. Although he announced in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks his intention to seek re-election ("Now is not the time for me to leave," said Thompson at the time), upon further reflection, he decided against it. [37] The decision seems to have been prompted in large part by the death of his daughter. [47] [54]


Senator Thompson meeting with Girl Scouts Senator Fred Thompson with Girl Scout Troop 68 Bartlett, Tennessee in front of the Capitol, 2001.jpg
Senator Thompson meeting with Girl Scouts

Thompson had an 86.1% lifetime (1995–2002) American Conservative Union vote rating, compared to 89.3 for Bill Frist and 82.3 for John McCain. [55] [56] Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) characterized her colleague this way: "I believe that Fred is a fearless senator. By that I mean he was never afraid to cast a vote or take a stand, regardless of the political consequences." [57] Thompson was "on the short end of a couple of 99–1 votes", voting against those who wanted to federalize matters that he believed were properly left to state and local officials. [58]

With Thompson's decision to campaign for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination, his Senate record received some criticism from people who say he was "lazy" compared to other Senators. [59] Critics say that few of his proposals became law, and point to a 1998 quote: "I don't like spending 14- and 16-hour days voting on 'sense of the Senate' resolutions on irrelevant matters. There are some important things we really need to get on with—and on a daily basis, it's very frustrating." Defenders say he spent more time in preparation than other Senators. Paul Noe, a former staffer, told The New York Times, "On the lazy charge, I have to chuckle because I was there sometimes until 1 in the morning working with the man." [60]

Career between Senate and presidential campaign (2003–2007)


Thompson continued his acting career after he left the Senate. He continued playing Arthur Branch on Law & Order until he left the show in May 2007 to prepare to run for President. He also appeared in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee .

Political work

Thompson speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Fred Thompson by Gage Skidmore (a).jpg
Thompson speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)

From 2002 to 2005, Thompson was head of the Federal City Council, a group of business, civic, education, and other leaders interested in economic development in Washington, DC. [61]

In March 2003, Thompson was featured in a commercial by the conservative nonprofit group Citizens United that advocated the invasion of Iraq, stating: "When people ask what has Saddam done to us, I ask, what had the 9/11 hijackers done to us -- before 9/11." [62]

Thompson did voice-over work at the 2004 Republican National Convention. [63] While narrating a video for that convention, Thompson observed: "History throws you what it throws you, and you never know what's coming." [64]

After the retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 2005, President George W. Bush appointed Thompson to an informal position to help guide the nomination of John Roberts through the United States Senate confirmation process. [65] Roberts was subsequently confirmed as Chief Justice.

Until July 2007, Thompson was Chair of the International Security Advisory Board, a bipartisan advisory panel that reports to the Secretary of State and focuses on emerging strategic threats. [66] In that capacity, he advised the State Department about all aspects of arms control, disarmament, international security, and related aspects of public diplomacy. [67]

In 2006, he served on the advisory board of the legal defense fund for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., who was indicted and later convicted of lying to federal investigators during their investigation of the Plame affair. [68] [69] Thompson, who had never met Libby before volunteering for the advisory board, said he was convinced Libby was innocent. [37] The Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund Trust set out to raise more than $5 million to help finance the legal defense of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. [70] Thompson hosted a fundraiser for the Libby defense fund at his home in McLean, Virginia. [71] After Bush commuted Libby's sentence, [72] Thompson released a statement: "I am very happy for Scooter Libby. I know that this is a great relief to him, his wife and children. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life." [73]

Radio analyst

In 2006, he signed on with ABC News Radio to serve as senior analyst and vacation replacement for Paul Harvey. [74] He used that platform to spell out his positions on a number of political issues. A July 3, 2007, update to Thompson's ABC News Radio home page referred to him as a "former ABC News Radio contributor", indicating that Thompson had been released from his contract with the broadcaster. [75] He did not return after his campaign ended.


Thompson signed a deal with Salem Communications's to write for the organization's magazine, Townhall, from April 23, 2007, until August 21, 2007, [76] and again from June 8, 2008, until November 17, 2008. [77]

2008 presidential campaign

Thompson in Iowa, 2007 Fred Thompson - Sioux City1 (a).jpg
Thompson in Iowa, 2007

On March 11, 2007, Thompson appeared on Fox News Sunday to discuss the possibility of a 2008 candidacy for president. At the end of March, Thompson asked to be released from his television contract, potentially in preparation for a presidential bid. [8] Thompson formed a presidential exploratory committee regarding his possible 2008 campaign for president on June 1, 2007, [78] but unlike most candidate exploratory groups, Thompson's organized as a 527 group. [79]

Thompson continued to be mentioned as a potential candidate, but did not officially declare his candidacy. On June 12, Thompson told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show that while he did not crave the presidency itself, he would like to do things that he could only do by holding that office. [80] A New York Times article cited Thompson's aides as saying on July 18 that he planned to enter the race just after Labor Day, followed by a national announcement tour. [81]

On September 5, 2007, Thompson made his candidacy official, announcing on The Tonight Show that "I'm running for president of the United States" and running an ad during a Republican Presidential candidates' debate on Fox News . [82] In both cases he pointed people to his campaign website to watch a 15-minute video detailing his platform. His campaign entrance was described as "lackluster" [83] and "awkward" [84] despite high expectations in anticipation of his joining the race. [85] Fred Thompson was endorsed by the Virginia Society for Human Life and several other pro-life organizations. [86] [87]

In nationwide polling toward the end of 2007, Thompson's support in the Republican primary election was sliding, with Thompson placing either third or fourth in polls. [88] [89]

On January 22, 2008, after attracting little support in the early primaries, Thompson confirmed he had withdrawn from the Presidential race. [90] In a statement issued by his campaign, Thompson said:

Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people.

After the campaign


Thompson spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention on September 2 in Minnesota, where he described in graphic detail presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese during his imprisonment, and gave an endorsement of McCain for President.[ citation needed ]


Thompson signed an agreement to be represented as an actor by the William Morris Agency. [91] In 2009, he returned to acting with a guest appearance on the ABC television series Life on Mars , [40] and as William Jennings Bryan in the TV movie Alleged, based on the Scopes Monkey Trial. [41] Thompson portrayed Frank Michael Thomas in the CBS series The Good Wife ; besides having a similar name, Thomas also shares Thompson's love for acting and the law.[ citation needed ] Thompson also had roles in Disney's Secretariat and the horror film Sinister . In 2014, he appeared in the film, Persecuted , focusing on religious freedom, government surveillance, and censorship. [92]

Radio host

On March 2, 2009, he took over on Westwood One's East Coast noon time slot, hosting the talk radio program The Fred Thompson Show, after Bill O'Reilly ended The Radio Factor . [93] It was co-hosted for a time by his wife, Jeri. Thompson's final show for Westwood One was aired on January 21, 2011. Douglas Urbanski took Thompson's place in the Westwood One syndication lineup. [94]

Advertising spokesman

In May 2010, Thompson became an advertising spokesman for American Advisors Group, a reverse mortgage lender. [95] [96]


Thompson's memoir , Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing up and Second Chances, was published in 2010. [97] [98]

Political positions

Thompson in Dallas on July 25, 2007 Fred Thompson visits Dallas.jpg
Thompson in Dallas on July 25, 2007

Thompson said that federalism was his "lodestar", which provides "a basis for a proper analysis of most issues: 'Is this something government should be doing? If so, at what level of government?'" [58]

Thompson stated that " Roe v. Wade was bad law and bad medical science," and that judges should not be determining social policy. [99] Thompson stated the government should not criminally prosecute women who undergo early term abortions. [100] [101]

Thompson did not support a federal ban on gay marriage, but would have supported a constitutional amendment to keep one state's recognition of such marriages from resulting in all states having to recognize them. [102]

Thompson said citizens are entitled to keep and bear arms if they do not have criminal records, [103] and the Gun Owners of America says that he voted pro-gun in 20 of 33 gun-related votes during his time in the Senate. [104]

Thompson said that U.S. borders should be secured before considering comprehensive immigration reform, [105] but he also supported a path to citizenship for illegal aliens saying, "You're going to have to, in some way, work out a deal where they can have some aspirations of citizenship, but not make it so easy that it's unfair to the people waiting in line and abiding by the law." [106] Thompson supported the U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq [107] and was opposed to withdrawing troops, [108] but believed that "mistakes have been made" since the invasion. [109]

Thompson initially supported the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation, but he later said that certain parts should be repealed. [110]

Thompson was skeptical that human efforts cause global warming and pointed to parallel warming on Mars and other planets as an example. [111]

Personal life

Marriages and children

Fred and Jeri Thompson with their children in September 2007 The Thompson Family.jpg
Fred and Jeri Thompson with their children in September 2007

In September 1959, at the age of 17, Thompson married Sarah Elizabeth Lindsey. [112] Their son, Freddie Dalton "Tony" Thompson Jr., [2] was born in April 1960. [113] Son Daniel and daughter Elizabeth were born soon thereafter. While Thompson was attending law school, both his wife and he worked to pay for his education and support their three children. [18]

The couple divorced in 1985. They have two surviving children, [114] as well as five grandchildren. Thompson's daughter Elizabeth "Betsy" Thompson Panici died from a brain injury resulting from cardiac arrest after what was determined to be an accidental overdose of prescription drugs on January 30, 2002. [115]

While single, Thompson had been romantically linked to country singer Lorrie Morgan, Republican fundraiser Georgette Mosbacher, future Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, and columnist Margaret Carlson. [116]

In July 1996, Thompson began dating Jeri Kehn (born 1966) and the two married almost six years later on June 29, 2002. [117] When Thompson was asked in a December 2007 Associated Press survey of the candidates to name his favorite possession, he replied, tongue-in-cheek, "trophy wife". [118] The couple have two children, a daughter Hayden born in 2003 and a son Samuel born in 2006. [119] [120] [121] [122]


Thompson was raised in the Church of Christ. According to Thompson, his values come from "sitting around the kitchen table" with his parents, and from the Church of Christ. While talking to reporters in South Carolina, Thompson said, "I attend church when I'm in Tennessee. I'm [living] in McLean right now. I don't attend regularly when I'm up there." [123] On occasion, Thompson attended Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. [124] He did not speak much about his religion during his campaign, saying, "Me getting up and talking about what a wonderful person I am and that sort of thing, I'm not comfortable with that, and I don't think it does me any good." [123]

Cancer and death

Thompson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), a form of cancer, in 2004. In 2007, Thompson stated, "I have had no illness from it, or even any symptoms. My life expectancy should not be affected. I am in remission, and it is very treatable with drugs if treatment is needed in the future—and with no debilitating side effects." Reportedly indolent, Thompson's NHL was the lowest of three grades of NHL, [125] and was the rare nodal marginal zone lymphoma. It accounts for only 1–3% of all cases. [126]

On the morning of November 1, 2015, Thompson died at the age of 73 from a recurrence of lymphoma. [127] His funeral was held on November 6, 2015, in Nashville, Tennessee, with U.S. Senators John McCain and Lamar Alexander in attendance. [128] He was interred at Mimosa Cemetery in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, that same day. [129]


1985 Marie HimselfFred Thompson's first film
1987 No Way Out CIA Director Marshall
1988 Unholy Matrimony Frank SweenyTV movie
Feds Bill Bilecki
1989 Fat Man and Little Boy Major General Melrose Hayden BarryMovie about the Manhattan Project. Thompson's character may loosely be based on General Brehon B. Somervell, who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon.
1990 The Hunt for Red October Rear Admiral Joshua Painter
Days of Thunder Big John
Die Hard 2 Ed Trudeau
1991 Flight of the Intruder JAGC Captain at Court-MartialUncredited
Class Action Dr. Getchell
Necessary Roughness Carver Purcell
Cape Fear Tom Broadbent
Curly Sue Bernie Oxbar
1992 Aces: Iron Eagle III Stockman
Bed of Lies Richard 'Racehorse' Haynes TV movie
Thunderheart William DawesLoosely based on the Wounded Knee Incident
White Sands Arms dealer Uncredited
Stay the Night Det. MaloneTV movie
Day-O Frank DeGeorgioTV movie
Keep the Change OtisTV movie
1993 Barbarians at the Gate James D. Robinson III TV movie about the 1988 leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco.
Born Yesterday Sen. HedgesRemake of the 1950 film based on Born Yesterday , a play by Garson Kanin.
In the Line of Fire White House Chief of Staff Harry Sargent
1994 Baby's Day Out FBI Agent Dale Grissom
2001Rachel and Andrew Jackson: A Love Story President Andrew Jackson Voice, TV movie
2002Download ThisHimself
2004 Evel Knievel Jay Sarno TV movie
2005 Racing Stripes Sir TrentonVoice
2005 Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World HimselfAlthough Thompson plays himself, it is a slightly fictionalized version.
2007 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee President Ulysses S. Grant TV movie Based on the book of the same name, which is about the Native American experience in the American West during the late 19th century.
2010The Genesis CodeJudge HardinFilm is based on debates about the relationship between religion and science.
Secretariat Arthur "Bull" Hancock Film is about the United States' Hall of Fame racehorse Secretariat.
IronmenGovernor Neeley
Alleged William Jennings Bryan Film is about the 1925 Scopes Trial.
2012 The Last Ride O'KeefeFilm is about legendary country music singer Hank Williams's self-destruction due to his dangerous addictions to drugs and alcohol.
2012 Sinister Sheriffdirected and co-written by Scott Derrickson
2013UnlimitedHarold Finch
2014 Persecuted Fr. Charles Luther
23 Blast Coach Powers
2015A Larger LifeRobert Parker
90 Minutes in Heaven Jay B. Perkins
2016 God's Not Dead 2 Senior PastorPosthumous release, (final film role)


YearSeriesRoleEpisode count
1988 Wiseguy Knox Pooley3 episodes
1989 China Beach Lt. Col. Reinhardt1 episode
Roseanne Keith Faber1 episode
Matlock Gordon Lewis2 episodes
1993Matlock Prosecutor McGonigal1 episode
2000 Sex and the City Politician on TV1 episode
2002–2007 Law & Order D.A. Arthur Branch 116 episodes
2003–2006 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit D.A. Arthur Branch11 episodes
2005–2006 Law & Order: Trial by Jury D.A. Arthur Branch13 episodes
2005 Law & Order: Criminal Intent D.A. Arthur Branch1 episode
2006 Conviction D.A. Arthur Branch1 episode
2009 Life on Mars NYPD Chief Harry Woolf1 episode
2011–2012 The Good Wife Frank Michael Thomas2 episodes
2015 Allegiance FBI Director4 episodes


See also

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  112. Mathews, Joe (September 6, 2007). "Thompson wed his ambition". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 8, 2007. Retrieved September 7, 2007.: "In the summer of 1959  ... Lindsey told Thompson she was pregnant. He responded, friends say, by asking her to marry him  ... Freddie and Sarah exchanged vows in a Methodist church during the second week of his senior year. Seven months later, in April 1960, 17-year-old Thompson had a son."
  113. "Fred Thompson chronology". The Tennessean. May 6, 2007.
  114. Kirkpatrick, David (July 2, 2007). "As Senator Rose, Lobbying Became Family Affair". New York Times.
  115. Tapper, Jake."Thompson's Daughter's Death Informs Right-to-Die Stance", ABC News (2007-10-22).
  116. Baxter, Sarah."Old Girlfriends Cast Their Vote for Thompson", Times Online (2007-06-24).
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  118. Marc Santora (December 15, 2007). "A Little Thompson Humor". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2007.
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  121. Mackenzie Carpenter (August 12, 2007). "Married to ambition: Not your father's potential first spouse". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
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Documentaries, topic pages and databases
News media
Party political offices
Preceded by
William Hawkins
Republican nominee for United States Senator from Tennessee
(Class 2)

1994, 1996
Succeeded by
Lamar Alexander
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Harlan Mathews
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Tennessee
Served alongside: Jim Sasser, Bill Frist
Succeeded by
Lamar Alexander
Preceded by
Ted Stevens
Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Joe Lieberman
Preceded by
Joe Lieberman
Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee