Fred Ward, Star of ‘The Right Stuff’ and ‘Henry and June,’ Dies at 79

Fred Ward, Star of ‘The Right Stuff’ and ‘Henry and June,’ Dies at 79

Fred Ward, a flexible actor with a forceful onscreen presence who in a protracted occupation performed roles that ranged from the sexually adventurous novelist Henry Miller to the meticulous, taciturn astronaut Gus Grissom, died on Would possibly 8. He was once 79.

His dying was once introduced by way of his publicist, Ron Hofmann, who stated Mr. Ward’s circle of relatives didn’t wish to specify the reason for dying or say the place he died.

Mr. Ward got here by way of his virile character authentically — or as authentically as stereotypes of one of the jobs he held would possibly recommend. He labored as a logger and a lumberjack in Alaska, boxed as an novice and spent 3 years within the Air Power as a radar technician within the chilly and incessantly bleak Labrador area of Canada.

Whilst he by no means got here with reference to matching the stardom of macho main males like Bruce Willis or Dwayne Johnson — he typically had supporting roles — he performed difficult, resilient characters in motion pictures like “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” (1985), by which he was once a James Bond-like murderer professional in martial arts on task for a secret govt company; “Timerider: The Adventures of Lyle Swann” (1982), by which he portrayed a daredevil bike racer; “Tremors” (1990), by which he and Kevin Baron Verulam battled crawling wormlike monsters; and the comedy “Naked Gun 33 ⅓” (1994), by which he was once solid as a terrorist plotting to explode the Academy Awards display.

However his extra delicate abilities as an actor have been on brilliant show in “Henry and June” (1990), a steamy account of the Parisian love triangle that Miller had together with his spouse, June (Uma Thurman), and the diarist Anaïs Nin (Maria de Medeiros) within the Thirties. Along with drawing consideration for its material, the movie won an additional smidgen of notoriety as it was once the primary to be blessed with the Movement Image Affiliation of The usa’s NC-17 ranking, which allowed it to flee the consequences — in misplaced newspaper and tv promoting and reluctant theaters — that will have resulted if it were rated X.

“My rear end seemed to have something to do with it,” Mr. Ward stated of the threatened X ranking, despite the fact that his was once now not the one rear finish on show.

“Because women were the instigators as much as men in this film, that may have been threatening to some people,” he advised The Washington Publish in 1990. “Or that may be a cockamamie theory of mine.”

In solidarity with Miller’s urge for food for dwelling and his bawdy humor, Mr. Ward captured his working-class Brooklyn origins and accessory, in addition to the rascally, bohemian pleasure he took in flouting conference. He shaved his head to resemble Miller’s and studied videotapes of the elderly Miller to mimic his tics.

“He talked out of the corner of his mouth,” Mr. Ward stated. “He had a squint.”

Reviewing “Henry and June” in The Instances, the critic Janet Maslin was once now not type to the movie — however stated of Mr. Ward that even though he were “asked to give more of an impersonation than a performance,” he was once “always appealing.”

Hal Hinson of The Washington Publish was once way more enthusiastic, about each the film and Mr. Ward’s efficiency. As Miller, he wrote, “Ward gives a hilarious rendition of burly American bravado, but he keeps the character’s vulgarities in balance with his artistic drives.” It was once, he stated, “a star performance with a character actor’s authenticity.”

Frederick Joseph Ward was once born on Dec. 30, 1942, in San Diego to an alcoholic father. “My father did a lot of time,” he advised The Chicago Tribune in 1985. “He was in jail when I was born, got out briefly to celebrate the birth and went right back.”

When Fred was once 3, his mom left her husband and went to New Orleans to rebuild her lifestyles, placing Fred in his grandmother’s care in Texas. “After a while she sent for me,” Mr. Ward advised The Tribune. “She supported us by working in bars. In five years we lived in five different places. Then she married my stepfather, who was with the carny. Maybe that’s where my restlessness comes from. I inherited it.”

3 days after graduating from highschool, Mr. Ward enrolled within the Air Power, as a result of, he stated, it was once his responsibility to his nation. As soon as his carrier was once completed, he took a bus to New York and enrolled in performing categories on the Herbert Berghof Studio, supporting himself by way of operating as a janitor and building employee.

When the categories yielded just one small film function, he took off to Florida, the place he loaded vehicles, after which to New Orleans, the place he labored in a barrel manufacturing facility; Houston, the place a imaginable activity as a seaman was once derailed by way of a strike; and Yuba Town, Calif., the place he discovered a role as short-order prepare dinner in a bowling alley. In San Francisco, a building activity within the transit gadget financed a commute to Spain, Morocco, France and Italy.

“I had a restless Kerouac streak, the call of the road,” he stated in 1985. “I guess I wanted to experience that existential thing of being alone.”

Returning to the US, he took an uncredited section as a cowboy within the 1975 movie “Hearts of the West.” However he didn’t land his first vital function till 1979, when he performed a convict who joins Clint Eastwood in an try to get away of jail in “Escape From Alcatraz.” Different roles adopted, together with Mike Nichols’s “Silkwood” (1983), by which he performed a union activist and Meryl Streep’s colleague.

However the first movie to garner him severe Hollywood consideration was once “The Right Stuff” (1983), the saga of the Mercury astronauts, in line with the Tom Wolfe e-book of the similar title. Mr. Ward portrayed Virgil “Gus” Grissom. The Hollywood Reporter’s evaluate praised him as “earthy and unpretentious in what is perhaps the film’s most demanding role.”

The director of that movie was once Philip Kaufman, who went directly to solid Mr. Ward in “Henry and June.”

Two years after “The Right Stuff” got here an enormous occupation letdown. The makers of “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” was hoping that — because the identify prompt — it will be the starting of a James Bond-like franchise, and Mr. Ward signed on for 2 sequels. Nevertheless it was once a box-office bust, and the opposite motion pictures have been by no means made.

Mr. Ward was once married thrice. His survivors come with Marie-France Ward, his spouse of 27 years, and a son, Django, named after the guitarist Django Reinhardt.

In his remaining many years, Mr. Ward seemed in a motley collection of flicks and tv displays, however he labored maximum intensely on growing a skill he felt he had for portray. In that pursuit, he would possibly had been following his internal Henry Miller — Miller, Mr. Ward as soon as stated, attempted to “experiment with life over and over again.”

“He was a man who knew he had to follow that inner urge, the creativity and the passion,” he stated. “Or he would die bitter.”

Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.