Ken Howard, 1944-2016

by Yoram Kahana March 24, 2016


Veteran actor Ken Howard has died at age 71 after a career spanning almost half a century and covering more than a hundred movies, television shows, musicals and stage plays, collecting two Emmys, a Tony but no Golden Globe....  He was last seen in Joy (2015) a Golden Globe nominated motion picture (best comedy or musical) in which he played an executive of a mop making company. 

With his 6-foot-6 frame, barrel chested presence and twinkling blue eyes, the native Californian, Harvard graduate actor helped anchor a popular television series in each of the last five decades: 30 Rock (2011-13), Crossing Jordan (early 2000s), Melrose Place  (late 1990s) and, in the 1980s, Murder, She Wrote (1985-1994) and Dynasty  (mid 1980s).But Howard was best known for the TV drama series The White Shadow  (1978-81). Variety called it .."a progressive drama, ahead of its time in exploring the sometimes awkward, sometimes tense and sometimes funny aspects of race relations in the context of a high school basketball team with mostly African American players and a white coach, a former NBA player named Ken Reeves, played by Howard (himself a basketball player in college) (....)  (it) represented television’s first ensemble drama with a predominantly African American cast (though admittedly Howard, the star of the show, was white). Howard’s Reeves was almost always trying to do the right thing. While Reeves did his best for his players both on the court and in their private lives, the team ribbed Reeves."

Howard was like that in his personal life too. On a large scale he was a leader that helped unify rival Hollywood actors unions, elected two terms president of the combined union, SAG-AFTRA. George Clooney (13 time Golden Globe nominee with five statuettes on his shelf) recalled an act of private kindness from long ago. As Clooney told the press hours after he learned of Howard's death: “There’s a story about how a young actor met Ken on the Fox lot in 1983 and told him what a fan he was of The White Shadow. Ken asked that actor what he did and the young man said, ‘Well someday I hope to be lucky enough to work with you.'” Clooney said he told Howard that he had an audition at another studio,  Paramount, some seven miles away, but he wasn’t going to make it in time because all he had was a bike. “So Ken put the young actor's bike in the trunk of his car and dropped him off at Paramount. Then Ken just waved goodbye and said  'good luck, I hope we do get that chance to work together.’ "I didn’t get that audition", said Clooney, "but I did get the chance to work with him years later (in the  legal thriller Michael Clayton, 2007).  It was an honor. Today his obituary read that he was six foot six, but he was so much taller than that.”