Ken Howard was an Emmy-winning actor whose career spanned more than 40 years, and who also served as president of the entertainment industry's largest union, SAG-AFTRA. He was perhaps best known for the role of Ken Reeves, a former professional basketball player turned inner-city high school coach on the television series The White Shadow, which aired on CBS from 1978 to 1981.
In 2009, Howard was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, based on his campaign to combine SAG with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The merger occurred in 2012. He was reelected to a second term in August of 2015.
2009 was also the year he won his Emmy, in the category of best supporting actor in a miniseries or a movie, for the HBO production Grey Gardens, starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. Howard played Phelan Beale, the husband of Lange’s Big Edie. He also won a Daytime Emmy in 1981, for outstanding individual achievement in children's programming, for The Body Human: Facts for Boys.
Howard's vast television resume also included regular or recurring roles on such series as Adam's Rib, Manhunter, It's Not Easy, Dynasty, The Colbys, Melrose Place, Crossing Jordan, Cane and 30 Rock. His dozens of guest appearances included roles on Bonanza, Glitter, Hotel, The Golden Girls, Diagnosis Murder, The West Wing, The Practice, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, George Lopez, Ghost Whisperer, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Brothers & Sisters, Eli Stone, Boston Legal, Cold Case, The Closer, The Young and the Restless, Blue Bloods and more.
His feature film credits included Clear and Present Danger, starring Harrison Ford; At First Sight, starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino; Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney; Rambo, starring Sylvester Stallone; J. Edgar, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts; The Judge, with Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall; and Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper.
Born in El Centro, California, Howard, who stood six feet six inches tall, grew up mostly on Long Island. He attended Amherst College — where he captained the basketball team — and Yale School of Drama before joining the cast of Neil Simon’s Promises, Promises, starring Jerry Orbach, on Broadway. In 1970, he won a Tony Award for his supporting performance in Child’s Play, after which he was cast opposite Liza Minnelli in the film Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon. Howard later starred on Broadway as Thomas Jefferson in 1776 and reprised the role in the 1972 film.
His other Broadway appearances included Seesaw in 1973 and The Norman Conquests. He also portrayed several U.S. presidents in the 1975 Broadway musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and appeared as Warren G. Harding in Camping with Henry and Tom in 1995.
In the mid-1990s, Howard spent three years at Harvard, teaching acting and public speaking, as well as a course in oral argument at Harvard Law School with famed legal scholar Charles Ogletree.
He was also the recipient of a Daytime Emmy Award for 1980’s The Body Human: Facts for Boys. He won in the category of outstanding individual achievement in children’s programming for a performer.
Howard died March 23, 2016, in Los Angeles. He was 71.