SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard died today in his home near L.A., the union announced. He was 71. No cause of death was given, though rumors of his ill health had been circulating earlier this year.

The Emmy- and Tony-winning actor first was elected head of the Screen Actors Guild in 2009 and became one of the co-Presidents of the merged union when SAG and AFTRA finally formally joined in 2012. Howard become the sole leader of the 160,000-member union in 2013 and was re-elected last year.

Following protocol, SAG-AFTRA Executive Vice President Gabrielle Carteris now is Acting President of the union. The former 90210 actress and longtime union activist was elected EVP of the melded union in September 2013 and also re-elected last year.

ken howard the judgeKenneth Joseph Howard Jr was born on March 28, 1944, in El Centro, CA. Long before getting in front of the camera, he was a page at NBC’s The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson in NYC while on his summer breaks from Amherst College. He later graduated from Yale.

In 1968, Howard made his Broadway debut in Neil Simon’s Promises, Promises. Two years later, he won a Tony for his role as a school gym teacher at a Catholic boys’ school in Robert Marasco’s Child’s Play. He starred in two groundbreaking presidential musicals — first in 1969 as Thomas Jefferson in 1776 (which is being revived in concert form next week at City Center) and then in 1976 as the President in Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Howard most recently seen on the big screen in last year’s Joy and The Wedding Ringer and 2014’s The Judge with Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall,

Originally known on the small screen for his role as an NBA player-turned-inner-city high school coach in CBS’ The White Shadow from 1978-81Howard found a new generation of viewers with his appearances on NBC’s 30 Rock as the CEO of Kabletown. He also was a regular on the hit ’80s soap Dynasty and its spinoff The Colbys. In 2009, just before becoming SAG boss, Howard won a Primetime Emmy for his supporting actor role on HBO’s Grey Gardens.

On the night of his solid re-election last August 20, Howard said that “serving the members of Screen Actors Guild and now SAG-AFTRA has been one of the greatest privileges of my life as an actor.” The union said Wednesday that “in lieu of flowers, remembrance contributions may be made to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and the Onyx and Breezy Foundation for the Welfare of Animals.”