Ken Howard at 2014 Toronto Film Festival. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Ken Howard, best remembered for his work on the television series “The White Shadow” but more recently known for his role as president of the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union, died Wednesday at age 71.

Howard, a Tony- and Emmy-winning actor, died at his home near Los Angeles, according to the union.

“Ken was an inspirational leader and it is an incredible loss for SAG- AFTRA, for his family and for everyone who knew him,” the union’s acting president, Gabrielle Carteris, said. “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 forever be in his debt.”

He was elected to the Screen Actors Guild national board of directors in 2008 and became president of the union in 2009. He helped guide the 2012 merger of SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, creating a union representing nearly 160,000 actors, broadcasters, recording artists and others. The merger was a major theme of his re-election campaign in 2011.

“The merger of SAG and AFTRA was something of a ‘North Star’ for him, and once he fixed upon it, he never wavered from that goal,” said David White, the union’s national executive director.

Howard, who was born in El Centro in 1944, would have turned 72 on Monday.

A high school basketball star, Howard also performed in high school musicals and performed at Carenegie Hall as a member of the Congregational Church of Manhasset choir. While attending Amherst College, he performed in a choral group that toured Europe and produced two albums.

He also got a taste of show business during college, working at an NBC page on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

After graduating Amherst, he earned a fellowship to the Yale School of Drama, and made his Broadway debut in 1968 in Neil Simon’s “Promises, Promises.” He went on to a series of Broadway roles, winning a Tony Award for his work in “Child’s Play” in 1970.

He made his motion picture debut in director Otto Preminger’s “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon.” His other film credits include “Clear and Present Danger,” “In Her Shoes,” “Michael Clayton,” “J. Edgar,” “The Judge” and “The Wedding Ringer.”

In 1978, he gained fame starring in “The White Shadow,” portraying the white basketball coach at an inner-city high school. The character was based partly on Howard’s experience as the only white player on his high school basketball team.

Although it is his best-known role, Howard also appeared on shows including “The Manhunter,” “Crossing Jordan,” “The Colbys” and “Dynasty.” He also had roles in miniseries including “The Thorn Birds” and “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town.” He won a supporting-actor Emmy in 2009 for his role in HBO’s “Grey Gardens.”

Howard won a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding individual achievement in children’s programming in 1981 for his voice work in “The Body Human: Facts for Boys.”

He taught master classes at the American Repertory Theatre Institute and was a teacher at Harvard University, Harvard Law School and Amherst College.

Howard was also a kidney transplant recipient and was chancellor of the National Kidney Foundation.

Howard is survived by his wife of 25 years, Linda Fetters Howard, former president of the Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures; and three adult stepchildren from a previous marriage.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and the Onyx and Breezy Foundation for the Welfare of Animals.

— Wire reports 

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