Ken Howard Biography


Birthday: March 28, 1944 (Aries)

Born In: El Centro, California, United States

Ken Howard was a veteran American actor who had a decades-long career in films, plays, and series. A talented basketball player in his early days, he later ditched sports scholarships to focus on academics but eventually abandoned his studies at Yale to step into acting with a Broadway play. Howard shot to fame with his role of basketball coach Ken Reeves in the long-running series The White Shadow. He also won an Emmy Award for the telefilm Grey Gardens, a Daytime Emmy Award for the CBS special The Body Human: Facts for Boys, and a Tony Award for the drama Child’s Play. Howard was also an inspiring union leader and had led the actors’ union SAG as its last president and the SAG-AFTRA as its first national president. Howard had also taught acting at Harvard and had later penned a book based on his lectures. He had married thrice and divorced twice.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Kenneth Joseph Howard Jr.

Died At Age: 71


Spouse/Ex-: Linda Fetters (m. 1992–2016), Louise Sorel (m. 1973–1975), Margo Howard (m. 1977–1991)

father: Kenneth Joseph Howard

mother: Martha Carey

siblings: Don Howard

Born Country: United States

Actors American Men

Height: 6'7" (201 cm), 6'7" Males

Died on: March 23, 2016

place of death: Valencia, California, United States

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

More Facts

education: Yale University, Amherst College, Kent State University

Early Life & Education

Ken Howard was born Kenneth Joseph Howard Jr., on March 28, 1944, in El Centro, California, US, to Kenneth Joseph Howard and Martha Carey. His father was a stockbroker. His younger sibling, Don Howard, too, grew up to be an actor and a director.

Howard grew up in the quaint town of Manhasset, on Long Island, New York. In school, his towering 6’6” frame made his peers call him Stork.

While studying at the Manhasset High School, he was part of the high school basketball team. In 1961, at age 17, the Long Island media named him The White Shadow, as he was the only white starter in the Manhasset High basketball team.

He was part of the National Honor Society in high school and rejected many basketball scholarships to focus on education instead. Following high school, he captained the Amherst College basketball team and was part of an a cappella group, too.

In 1966, he graduated from Amherst College, before attending the Yale School of Drama. He later left Yale midway and stepped into Broadway, only to finish his master’s degree in 1999.

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Acting Career

In 1968, after abandoning his studies at Yale following a 2-year stint there, Ken Howard made his Broadway debut with Neil Simon’s Promises, Promises. His other memorable stage productions include the musical 1776 (as Thomas Jefferson, 1969-72) and The Norman Conquests Trilogy (as Tom, 1975-76). He bagged a Tony Award for the Best Featured Actor in a Play for his role of physical education teacher Paul Reese in Robert Marasco's boarding school drama Child's Play (1970).

He made his screen debut with the 1970 movie Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, opposite Liza Minnelli. He reprised his stage role of Jefferson in the 1972 movie version of 1776.

He was later typecast in authority figures, in movies such as Oscar (1991), Clear and Present Danger (1994), and The Judge (2014). Howard's other notable films include In Her Shoes (2005), Michael Clayton (2007), Rambo (2008), The Wedding Ringer (2015), and the Jennifer Lawrence starrer Joy (2015).

His performance as absent father Phelan Beale in HBO's 2009 telefilm Grey Gardens won him an Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie. He had previously won a Daytime Emmy Award for the 1981 CBS special The Body Human: Facts for Boys.

However, the role that made him a household name was that of fictional former NBA player and high school basketball coach Ken Reeves in the CBS-TV series The White Shadow (1978-81). In the series, his character survives a career-ending knee injury and succeeds later as the head coach of the basketball team at Carver High in South Central Los Angeles.

The name of the series, interestingly, drew from his nickname, which he had earned while playing high school basketball. The White Shadow, which featured a predominantly Black cast, had a three-season run and became one of the longest-running series on US network.

He also shot to fame with the role of Adam Bonner in the 1973 sitcom Adam’s Rib, opposite Blythe Danner. In Crossing Jordan (2001-05), he played Max Cavanaugh, the father of a forensic pathologist, who was himself a retired police detective. He also appeared as Jimmy Smits in the CBS drama Cane (2007).

His other notable TV credits include The West Wing (1999), The Practice (1997 and 2000), Law & Order: SVU (2006), The Office (2006), NYPD Blue, and 30 Rock (2011-13).

As a Union Leader

In September 2009, Ken Howard was elected the 28th president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), one of the largest performers’ unions in the world, which represents over 160,000 actors, artists, and workers. In September 2011, he was re-elected to a second term.

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However, he ended up being the last president of SAG and was a major figure behind the merger of the SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), forming the SAG-AFTRA in 2012. Thus, in 2012, he became the 1st National President of the SAG-AFTRA. Howard was re-elected in 2013 and 2015.

As a union leader, he was known for his vision and was hailed as an inspiration. Following his death, SAG-AFTRA officials hailed him as a “remarkable leader.”

Personal Life

Ken Howard’s first wife was actor Louise Sorel of Days of Our Lives fame. The couple got married in 1973 and divorced in 1975.

He then married newspaper columnist and author Margo Howard, the daughter of Eppie Lederer, who wrote an advice column using the pseudonym Ann Landers. They got married in 1977 and divorced in 1991.

Howard’s third wife, Linda Fetters, was a stuntwoman. The duo got married in 1992. At the time of his death, Howard was survived by Fetters and his three adult stepchildren (two daughters and a son) from his previous marriage to Margo Howard.


On March 23, 2016, the SAG-AFTRA announced that their president, Ken Howard, had died. No immediate causes were given for his death.

He was 71 years old at the time of his death and passed away just five days short of his 72nd birthday. He thus became the first and only SAG (or SAG-AFTRA) president who died in office.

Media reports claimed that in 2007, he had been diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer and that he had also been hospitalized with shingles just before his death. However, it was later stated that Howard had died due to pneumonia, in Valencia, California.

Other Initiatives

In 1986, Ken Howard went on a hiatus from acting and began lecturing about acting and drama at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University. In 2003, he penned the book Act Natural: How to Speak to Any Audience, which was based on his drama lectures at Harvard. He was also known for his readings of audiobooks.


Actor George Clooney once recalled how he was a huge fan of Howard since his The White Shadow days. He had met Howard at a studio in 1983, and when Clooney had told him he had an audition somewhere else that day but only had a bike with him, Howard had put Clooney’s bike in his car and had driven him to the other studio across town.

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