UPDATE with more statements: Long before he became president of the Screen Actors Guild and later the merged SAG-AFTRA, Ken Howard starred as an NBA player-turned-basketball coach at an inner-city high school on The White Shadow. His death today at 71 brought condolences and remembrances from around the entertainment industry — some praising his service to the union; some reminiscing about his funny, poignant and socially conscious 1978-81 CBS dramedy; some calling out work from his 100-plus other credits in film, TV and Broadway. Here’s a sampling, which will continue to update throughout the day:
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers:
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ken Howard. Anyone who ever met Ken knew of his devotion to acting and to his fellow actors. Even as he achieved success in his own acting career, he never lost sight of the need to advocate for working actors. At the bargaining table, Ken spoke sparingly, but eloquently and intelligently, in support of improvements in working conditions for actors. It was no surprise that Ken became the leader of the movement to unite SAG and AFTRA, something that had twice been attempted — and twice failed –before he became President of the Screen Actors Guild. It took someone with his forceful personality, considerable intelligence and immutable commitment to the betterment of working actors, broadcasters and recording artists to unite them in a single union. This, together with his remarkable portrayals of characters on stage and screen, will become his enduring legacy — one fitting for such a remarkable man.”
“Ken was a leader during the difficult and important merger of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and he led with a vision of stability for the union members. [He] was a strong leader, and this is an incredible loss to his family, SAG-AFTRA members and the industry as a whole.”
Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA Acting President:
“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.”
JoBeth Williams, SAG-AFTRA Foundation President:
Having known Ken Howard for over 30 years and worked with him as an actor and as a member of our Foundation Board, I would like to express how deeply we will feel his loss. Ken did great work all his life — as an actor, as the president of our union, and for our Foundation. For more than four years, Ken served on our Board as an outspoken advocate for the emergency assistance, catastrophic health fund and scholarship programs for union members and their families in need of a leg up. He was also an ardent supporter of the Foundation’s free professional programs which help union members build their careers and develop their craft. Ken attended many Foundation fundraisers, events and meetings in order to support the mission and work of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. He did all of this on his own time, without compensation or fanfare, to be of service to his fellow union members. On behalf of our entire Board, staff, and the union performers we serve every day, our hearts go out to Ken’s wife Linda and his entire family from all of us at the Foundation.
Betty Buckley, Howard’s co-star in Tony-winning musical 1776:
“A wonderful actor and lovely person, Ken was my first Broadway leading man. I played Martha, his wife, to his Thomas Jefferson in 1776. It was my Broadway debut, and our first scene together featured a lengthy on-stage kiss. Benjamin Franklin had sent for me, Jefferson’s bride, to assist him with his writer’s block while attempting to write the Declaration of Independence. I had never kissed anyone onstage, and I felt pretty self-conscious about it all, though Ken was very courtly and made it all easy. Still, it was no easy feat for a full scene — especially given the fact that Ken was six feet six-and-a-half inches tall. And I was not. He will be greatly missed. My heart goes out to his wife Linda Fetters Howard. ”
DGA President Paris Barclay:
“It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Ken Howard, president of our sister guild SAG-AFTRA. Ken was an industry leader whose passion was channeled in his selfless work to protect the rights of performers.His strong leadership of SAG-AFTRA through the merger was an inspiration to our industry. Above all, Ken was a man of integrity, honor, and unmatched spirit. He will be greatly missed.
Lowell Peterson, WGA East Executive Director:
“Ken Howard always paid careful attention to leaders of other entertainment unions, even in the midst of an extraordinarily busy time for SAG — that is, during the merger process and immediately afterward. He was unfailingly attentive and engaged.”
Howard A. Rodman, WGA West President:
“He was a tireless advocate for social justice, for his union and for its members. It is a fitting tribute to his commitment to improving the lives of actors, broadcasters and recording artists that he was the first president of the united SAG-AFTRA. He will be missed as a leader and as a bright light in the creative community.”
Steve Dayan, Hollywood Teamsters Local 399 Secretary-Treasurer:
“Last July, I had the privilege of presenting Ken with the Yitzhak Rabin Award, which is given in recognition to extraordinary leadership and service to the labor movement. When I called him to ask him who he would like to present the award, he said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ It was a great honor to do so. Ken was a great labor leader and a great representative of SAG-AFTRA. During the SAG Awards, he always took a moment to acknowledge the Teamsters and the other unions who had contributed to the work of actors. He was a very gracious and humble guy. … His death is a real loss to the industry and to the labor movement. He was just a good human being, and I’m going to miss him.”
Steven Poster, President, International Cinematographers Guild:
Ken’s tireless work on behalf of the SAG-AFTRA membership was exceeded only by his grace and genuine caring for both his fellow actors and those of us lucky enough to cross paths with him either professionally or personally. His commitment to the well-being of his union and his unwavering support of other industry unions was unparalleled. He leaves a legacy of compassion, tenacity and generosity of spirit that will be greatly missed and impossible to duplicate, and his passing is a huge loss for our industry, the labor community, and the world at large.
MPAA Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd:
“It was deeply sorrowing to learn about the passing of Ken Howard, a friend, gifted actor, and stalwart champion for creativity and artistic rights. On the screen, his talent was radiant and unforgettable. And as a leader, Ken was a unifier whose hard work and contributions will be enjoyed by many in the creative community for years to come.”