SAG-AFTRA Live-Streams Ken Howard Celebration Today
As BroadwayWorld reported last month, Kenneth Joseph "Ken" Howard, Jr., a Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor and president of the performers union SAG-AFTRA died on March 23rd at his home near Los Angeles. He was 71.
A celebration of his life will be held today, April 11, 2016 and will be live-streamed at SAGAFTRA.org. The streaming video will be available one time only at 3 p.m. PT/6 p.m. ET. Portions will be recorded and available for viewing at a future date.
Over a long career rich with great performances, the Yale-trained Howard parlayed his classic blond, blue-eyed handsomeness into a string of enduring characters on stage and screen, later becoming the first president of the 160,000-member performers union SAG-AFTRA.
Howard was elected president of Screen Actors Guild in 2009 and reelected in 2011 on a pledge to unite Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The merger effort, which often dominated attention in the entertainment and media industries, was overwhelmingly approved by members in 2012. As the last president of the legendary Screen Actors Guild and the first elected president of post-merger SAG-AFTRA, Howard made history by leading the merged performers from a period of conflict to a stable, unified path toward the future.
An actor for nearly 50 years, Howard came to union leadership late in his career led by friends who asked him in 2008 to help them stabilize the then-troubled Screen Actors Guild. Thinking he might serve one two-year term on SAG's board, Howard met destiny and committed himself body and soul to the job. Standing for election as SAG president a year later, he believed he had found the work he was meant to do. In a 2014 SAG-AFTRA Magazine message, Howard wrote to members that serving them as president of the union was "the most important thing I have ever done."
Tall at 6'6 ½," Howard was dashing, debonair and athletic. A high-school basketball star in Manhasset, NY, he turned down several athletic scholarship offers to focus on academics. He was also drawn to the arts, performing in high school musicals and singing in the Congregational Church of Manhasset choir with whom he played Carnegie Hall. At Amherst College he was a featured soloist with the choral group the Zumbyes, touring Europe and recording two albums. During his college years, Howard spent summers as a Key Page for NBC working on "The Tonight Show withJohnny Carson."
Howard's interest in performing intensified and he was awarded a fellowship to the Yale School of Drama, which he attended after graduating from Amherst. Two years into his MFA program, he took an unplanned break to make his Broadway debut in the 1968 production of Neil Simon's "Promises, Promises."
With good notices for his performance in the show and firmly fixed on a career as an actor, Howard left Yale and never looked back. In 1969, he appeared as Thomas Jefferson in the musical "1776" for which he won a Theater World Award. He returned to Broadway the next year in "Child's Play," earning a Tony Award for his role as Paul Reese. His later Broadway credits included "Seesaw," "The Norman Conquests," "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," and the critically acclaimed one-man play "According to Tip" in which he played the iconic Speaker of the House Thomas P. 'Tip' O'Neill.
From Broadway, Howard was lured to Hollywood by legendary theater and film director Otto Preminger and made his feature motion picture debut opposite Liza Minnelli in Preminger's "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon." He would go on to standout performances in dozens of movies including the feature film version of "1776," "Clear and Present Danger," "At First Sight," "Rambo IV," "Dreamer," "In Her Shoes," "Michael Clayton," "J. Edgar," "Better Living Through Chemistry," "The Judge," "The Wedding Ringer," and "Joy" among others.
But it was in American living rooms and on the television screen where Howard deeply connected with audiences and realized his most compelling and memorable performances.
In 1978, Howard originated the role of Coach Ken Reeves on the groundbreaking television series "The White Shadow." Based on his own experiences as the only white player on his high school basketball team, the show starred Howard as the coach of a diverse basketball team at an inner-city high school. Over the course of three seasons, "The White Shadow" served as a proving ground for some of television's most prominent producers and directors including Bruce Paltrow, Tim Van Patten and others.
Innovative and even daring for its time, the show was recognized for its diverse casting and socially relevant themes. Even decades after the show ended, Howard was frequently recognized on the street by fans who greeted him with a handshake and a "Hey, Coach."
Over several decades on television, Howard would appear in numerous series including starring roles on "The Manhunter," "Crossing Jordan," "The Colbys" and "Dynasty" among others. His frequent guest star appearances included work on "Boston Legal," "Dirty Sexy Money," "Eli Stone," "Cold Case," "Brothers & Sisters," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The West Wing," "Blue Bloods," and "Cane." Howard broke new ground in 2012 as the hilariously clueless Kabletown honcho Hank Hooper on "30 Rock."
He starred in several television miniseries including "The Thorn Birds," "Rage of Angels," "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town," and in 2009 earned his second Primetime Emmy Award for the role of Phelan Beale in HBO's "Grey Gardens."
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.