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

Fred Ward, a multipurpose actor with a forceful onscreen presence who in a long vocation played 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 demise was declared by his publicist, Ron Hofmann, who claimed Mr. Ward’s spouse and children did not want to specify the trigger of demise or say exactly where he died.

Mr. Ward came by his virile persona authentically — or as authentically as stereotypes of some of the employment he held could suggest. He worked as a logger and a lumberjack in Alaska, boxed as an beginner and used 3 a long time in the Air Power as a radar technician in the cold and often bleak Labrador area of Canada.

While he under no circumstances arrived shut to matching the stardom of macho foremost men like Bruce Willis or Dwayne Johnson — he ordinarily experienced supporting roles — he performed hard, resilient people in films like “Remo Williams: The Journey Begins” (1985), in which he was a James Bond-like assassin experienced in martial arts on assignment for a secret govt company “Timerider: The Adventures of Lyle Swann” (1982), in which he portrayed a daredevil motorcycle racer “Tremors” (1990), in which he and Kevin Bacon battled crawling wormlike monsters and the comedy “Naked Gun 33 ⅓” (1994), in which he was forged as a terrorist plotting to blow up the Academy Awards display.

But his additional delicate abilities as an actor were on vivid display screen in “Henry and June” (1990), a steamy account of the Parisian adore triangle that Miller had with his wife, June (Uma Thurman), and the diarist Anaïs Nin (Maria de Medeiros) in the 1930s. In addition to drawing notice for its issue issue, the movie been given an added smidgen of notoriety since it was the initial to be blessed with the Motion Photograph Affiliation of America’s NC-17 rating, which allowed it to escape the penalties — in shed newspaper and tv advertising and unwilling theaters — that would have resulted if it had been rated X.

“My rear stop appeared to have a little something to do with it,” Mr. Ward reported of the threatened X rating, nevertheless his was not the only rear end on exhibit.

“Because women ended up the instigators as considerably as males in this movie, that might have been threatening to some folks,” he advised The Washington Submit in 1990. “Or that could be a cockamamie theory of mine.”

In harmony with Miller’s urge for food for living and his bawdy humor, Mr. Ward captured his functioning-class Brooklyn origins and accent, as properly as the rascally, bohemian joy he took in flouting conference. He shaved his head to resemble Miller’s and researched videotapes of the aged Miller to imitate his tics.

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

Examining “Henry and June” in The Periods, the critic Janet Maslin was not type to the movie — but claimed of Mr. Ward that whilst he experienced been “asked to give more of an impersonation than a performance,” he was “always captivating.”

Hal Hinson of The Washington Put up was much additional enthusiastic, about each the film and Mr. Ward’s general performance. As Miller, he wrote, “Ward offers a hilarious rendition of burly American bravado, but he retains the character’s vulgarities in stability with his creative drives.” It was, he said, “a star functionality with a character actor’s authenticity.”

Frederick Joseph Ward was born on Dec. 30, 1942, in San Diego to an alcoholic father. “My father did a good deal of time,” he informed The Chicago Tribune in 1985. “He was in jail when I was born, got out briefly to rejoice the delivery and went ideal again.”

When Fred was 3, his mother still left her partner and went to New Orleans to rebuild her existence, putting Fred in his grandmother’s care in Texas. “After a whilst she sent for me,” Mr. Ward advised The Tribune. “She supported us by operating in bars. In five a long time we lived in 5 diverse locations. Then she married my stepfather, who was with the carny. It’s possible that is the place my restlessness arrives from. I inherited it.”

A few days soon after graduating from substantial faculty, Mr. Ward enrolled in the Air Pressure, due to the fact, he claimed, it was his responsibility to his region. Once his support was finished, he took a bus to New York and enrolled in performing lessons at the Herbert Berghof Studio, supporting himself by operating as a janitor and development employee.

When the lessons yielded only just one small film role, he took off to Florida, where he loaded trucks, and then to New Orleans, exactly where he worked in a barrel factory Houston, where a doable job as a seaman was derailed by a strike and Yuba Metropolis, Calif., where he identified a work as short-get cook in a bowling alley. In San Francisco, a building occupation in the transit method financed a vacation to Spain, Morocco, France and Italy.

“I experienced a restless Kerouac streak, the connect with of the street,” he stated in 1985. “I guess I desired to encounter that existential point of currently being alone.”

Returning to the United States, he took an uncredited aspect as a cowboy in the 1975 movie “Hearts of the West.” But he did not land his initially substantial function until finally 1979, when he played a convict who joins Clint Eastwood in an try to split out of prison in “Escape From Alcatraz.” Other roles followed, such as Mike Nichols’s “Silkwood” (1983), in which he played a union activist and Meryl Streep’s colleague.

But the first film to garner him significant Hollywood attention was “The Right Stuff” (1983), the saga of the Mercury Seven astronauts, based mostly on the Tom Wolfe book of the similar identify. Mr. Ward portrayed Virgil “Gus” Grissom. The Hollywood Reporter’s overview praised him as “earthy and unpretentious in what is perhaps the film’s most demanding role.”

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

Two years soon after “The Correct Stuff” came a enormous career letdown. The makers of “Remo Williams: The Experience Begins” hoped that — as the title suggested — it would be the beginning of a James Bond-like franchise, and Mr. Ward signed on for two sequels. But it was a box-office environment bust, and the other movies were being in no way created.

Mr. Ward was married 3 instances. His survivors incorporate Marie-France Ward, his wife of 27 several years, and a son, Django, named soon after the guitarist Django Reinhardt.

In his previous decades, Mr. Ward appeared in a motley assortment of movies and television demonstrates, but he labored most intensely on acquiring a expertise he felt he experienced for painting. In that pursuit, he may possibly have been adhering to his inner Henry Miller — Miller, Mr. Ward after mentioned, tried to “experiment with lifetime about and in excess of once again.”

“He was a gentleman who understood he had to abide by that internal urge, the creativity and the enthusiasm,” he reported. “Or he would die bitter.”

Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.