LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Actor Ken Howard, the strapping , versatile character actor who starred in the 1970s drama “The White Shadow” and served as president of SAG-AFTRA, has died at age 71.

The union announced Howard’s death Wednesday. No cause of death was given.

Howard’s career spanned four decades in TV, theater and film. In the acclaimed CBS series “The White Shadow,” which aired from 1978 to 1981, he starred as a white coach to an urban high school basketball team — a part, one of Howard’s best known, that drew on the personal history of the 6 feet 6 inch tall actor, who played basketball growing up on Long Island in New York and at Amherst College.

He was a staple on television, starring opposite Blythe Danner in “Adam’s Rib” on ABC in the 1970s and appearing as the chipper Kabletown boss Hank Hooper on NBC’s “30 Rock” some 40 years later.

In early seasons of NBC’s “Crossing Jordan,” which premiered in 2001, he played the father of star Jill Hennessy, a retired police detective who gave behind-the-scenes advice to his daughter, a crime-solving forensic pathologist. He starred opposite Jimmy Smits in the 2007 CBS drama “Cane.”

He also played Garrett Boydston, Diahann Carroll’s sometimes love interest on the “Dynasty” spinoff “The Colbys.”

On “Melrose Place,” he played Sydney and Jane’s sinister father George Andrews.

Howard played Thomas Jefferson on Broadway in “1776,” a role he reprised in the 1972 film. He won a Tony Award for Robert Marasco’s Catholic boarding school drama “Child’s Play.”

After making his film debut opposite Liza Minnelli in 1970’s “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon,” Howard’s films included “Rambo,” ”In Her Shoes,” ”Michael Clayton,” and last year’s Jennifer Lawrence starrer, “Joy.” He won an Emmy for his performance in HBO’s film “Grey Gardens” in 2009.

He was also familiar to viewers of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, providing an update on the union’s accomplishments during the televised awards ceremony.

Howard was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 2009 and was a catalyst for its 2012 merger with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union. Combined, the groups represent 160,000 actors, broadcasters and recording artists.

Howard was the first president of SAG-AFTRA and was re-elected to the post last year.

“Ken was a remarkable leader and his powerful vision for this union was a source of inspiration for all of us,” SAG-AFTRA Executive Director David White wrote in a statement. “He was an exceptional person and we are deeply saddened by his passing. He had a remarkable career and he never forgot what it was like to be a working performer.”

The Writer’s Guild West also sung Howard’s praises Wednesday.

“It was with great sadness that I learned of Ken Howard’s passing today. He was a tireless advocate for social justice, for his union, and for its members. It is a fitting tribute to his commitment to improving the lives of actors, broadcasters and recording artists that he was the first president of the united SAG-AFTRA. He will be missed as a leader and as a bright light in the creative community. On behalf of the WGAW I would like to send our condolences to his family, his friends, and all those whose lives he touched throughout his long and exemplary career,” wrote WGAW President Howard A. Rodman.

Howard was born March 28, 1944, in El Centro, California. He is survived by his wife of 25 years, stuntwoman Linda Fetters Howard, and had three adult stepchildren from a previous marriage.

He had been previously married to Ann Lander’s daughter Margo Howard(1977-91)  and soap actress Louise Sorel (1973-75)

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