Fred Ward, Star of ‘The Proper Stuff’ and ‘Henry and June,’ Dies at 79

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Fred Ward, a flexible actor with a forceful onscreen presence who in a protracted profession performed roles that ranged from the sexually adventurous novelist Henry Miller to the meticulous, taciturn astronaut Gus Grissom, died on Might 8. He was 79.

His dying was introduced by his publicist, Ron Hofmann, who mentioned Mr. Ward’s household didn’t need to specify the reason for dying or say the place he died.

Mr. Ward got here by his virile persona authentically — or as authentically as stereotypes of among the jobs he held may counsel. He labored as a logger and a lumberjack in Alaska, boxed as an beginner and spent three years within the Air Drive as a radar technician within the chilly and sometimes bleak Labrador area of Canada.

Whereas he by no means got here near matching the stardom of macho main males like Bruce Willis or Dwayne Johnson — he often had supporting roles — he performed powerful, resilient characters in movies like “Remo Williams: The Journey Begins” (1985), by which he was a James Bond-like murderer expert in martial arts on task for a secret authorities company; “Timerider: The Adventures of Lyle Swann” (1982), by which he portrayed a daredevil motorbike racer; “Tremors” (1990), by which he and Kevin Bacon battled crawling wormlike monsters; and the comedy “Bare Gun 33 ⅓” (1994), by which he was solid as a terrorist plotting to explode the Academy Awards present.

However his extra refined skills as an actor have been on vivid show in “Henry and June” (1990), a steamy account of the Parisian love triangle that Miller had along with his spouse, June (Uma Thurman), and the diarist Anaïs Nin (Maria de Medeiros) within the Thirties. Along with drawing consideration for its material, the movie acquired an additional smidgen of notoriety as a result of it was the primary to be blessed with the Movement Image Affiliation of America’s NC-17 score, which allowed it to flee the penalties — in misplaced newspaper and tv promoting and reluctant theaters — that may have resulted if it had been rated X.

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“My rear finish appeared to have one thing to do with it,” Mr. Ward mentioned of the threatened X score, although his was not the one rear finish on show.

“As a result of girls have been the instigators as a lot as males on this movie, that will have been threatening to some folks,” he instructed The Washington Publish in 1990. “Or which may be a cockamamie idea of mine.”

In concord with Miller’s urge for food for dwelling and his bawdy humor, Mr. Ward captured his working-class Brooklyn origins and accent, in addition to the rascally, bohemian pleasure he took in flouting conference. He shaved his head to resemble Miller’s and studied videotapes of the aged Miller to mimic his tics.

“He talked out of the nook of his mouth,” Mr. Ward mentioned. “He had a squint.”

Reviewing “Henry and June” in The Occasions, the critic Janet Maslin was not form to the movie — however mentioned of Mr. Ward that though he had been “requested to present extra of an impersonation than a efficiency,” he was “at all times interesting.”

Hal Hinson of The Washington Publish was much more enthusiastic, about each the film and Mr. Ward’s efficiency. As Miller, he wrote, “Ward provides a hilarious rendition of burly American bravado, however he retains the character’s vulgarities in stability along with his creative drives.” It was, he mentioned, “a star efficiency with a personality actor’s authenticity.”

Frederick Joseph Ward was born on Dec. 30, 1942, in San Diego to an alcoholic father. “My father did a variety of time,” he instructed The Chicago Tribune in 1985. “He was in jail once I was born, bought out briefly to have fun the delivery and went proper again.”

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When Fred was 3, his mom left her husband and went to New Orleans to rebuild her life, placing Fred in his grandmother’s care in Texas. “After some time she despatched for me,” Mr. Ward instructed The Tribune. “She supported us by working in bars. In 5 years we lived in 5 totally different locations. Then she married my stepfather, who was with the carny. Perhaps that’s the place my restlessness comes from. I inherited it.”

Three days after graduating from highschool, Mr. Ward enrolled within the Air Drive, as a result of, he mentioned, it was his responsibility to his nation. As soon as his service was completed, he took a bus to New York and enrolled in performing courses on the Herbert Berghof Studio, supporting himself by working as a janitor and development employee.

When the courses yielded just one small film position, he took off to Florida, the place he loaded vans, after which to New Orleans, the place he labored in a barrel manufacturing facility; Houston, the place a potential job as a seaman was derailed by a strike; and Yuba Metropolis, Calif., the place he discovered a job as short-order cook dinner in a bowling alley. In San Francisco, a development job within the transit system financed a visit to Spain, Morocco, France and Italy.

“I had a stressed Kerouac streak, the decision of the street,” he mentioned in 1985. “I assume I needed to expertise that existential factor of being alone.”

Returning to the USA, he took an uncredited half as a cowboy within the 1975 movie “Hearts of the West.” However he didn’t land his first important position till 1979, when he performed a convict who joins Clint Eastwood in an try to interrupt out of jail in “Escape From Alcatraz.” Different roles adopted, together with Mike Nichols’s “Silkwood” (1983), by which he performed a union activist and Meryl Streep’s colleague.

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However the first movie to garner him critical Hollywood consideration was “The Proper Stuff” (1983), the saga of the Mercury astronauts, based mostly on the Tom Wolfe e-book of the identical identify. Mr. Ward portrayed Virgil “Gus” Grissom. The Hollywood Reporter’s assessment praised him as “earthy and unpretentious in what is maybe the movie’s most demanding position.”

The director of that movie was Philip Kaufman, who went on to solid Mr. Ward in “Henry and June.”

Two years after “The Proper Stuff” got here an enormous profession letdown. The makers of “Remo Williams: The Journey Begins” hoped that — because the title urged — it could be the start of a James Bond-like franchise, and Mr. Ward signed on for 2 sequels. Nevertheless it was a box-office bust, and the opposite movies have been by no means made.

Mr. Ward was married thrice. His survivors embrace Marie-France Ward, his spouse of 27 years, and a son, Django, named after the guitarist Django Reinhardt.

In his final a long time, Mr. Ward appeared in a motley assortment of movies and tv exhibits, however he labored most intensely on growing a expertise he felt he had for portray. In that pursuit, he may need been following his inside Henry Miller — Miller, Mr. Ward as soon as mentioned, tried to “experiment with life over and over.”

“He was a person who knew he needed to comply with that inside urge, the creativity and the eagerness,” he mentioned. “Or he would die bitter.”

Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.

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