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Arts and Entertainment

SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard Dies At 71

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SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard speaks onstage at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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SAG-AFTRA president and Emmy-award winning actor Ken Howard died in his home near Los Angeles today. He was 71.Howard, best known for his role as the basketball coach on the show The White Shadow, was reelected in August as head of the actors' union, and was also one of the leaders advocating for the eventual 2012 merger of the Screen Actors' Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. In a statement, SAG-AFTRA Acting President Gabrielle Carteris said:

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.

Howard was born on March 28, 1944 in El Centro, California, but grew up on Long Island. His lengthy acting career began in the late 60s on Broadway, and he won a Tony in 1970 for his supporting role as a Catholic school coach in the original play Child's Play.

Standing at 6-foot-6, Howard turned down basketball scholarship offers to attend Amherst College, where he took up acting, according to Variety. In 1978, he starred in the CBS series The White Shadow, about a white basketball coach at a predominantly black high school.

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In more recent years, he had roles on shows like Crossing Jordan and 30 Rock, where he had a role as the Kabletown exec Hank Hooper. He also had roles in the films Michael Clayton, J. Edgar, The Judge, and last year's Joy. He won an Emmy award for his performance in the 2009 HBO film Grey Gardens.

Howard was first elected as SAG president in 2009, and reelected in 2011. After the SAG-AFTRA merger, he became co-president, and elected to the new presidency in 2013. He was reelected again in August, narrowly defeating Patricia Richardson (the actress best known as Jill Taylor on Home Improvement).

No cause of death was announced, but Deadline says he was rumored to be in ill health recently.