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Former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson Dies

(CBSNews) Nashville -  Fred Dalton Thompson -- a man with many talents that he employed from Hollywood to Nashville to D.C. -- has died. He was 73.

In a statement, his family said he passed away following a recurrence of lymphoma.

"Fred once said that the experiences he had growing up in small-town Tennessee formed the prism through which he viewed the world and shaped the way he dealt with life," the family statement read. "Fred stood on principle and common sense, and had a deep love for and connection with the people across Tennessee whom he had the privilege to serve in the United States Senate. He enjoyed a hearty laugh, a strong handshake, a good cigar, and a healthy dose of humility. Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of Lawrenceburg, his home."

Born in Alabama on Aug. 19, 1942, and raised in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., 70 miles north of Nashville, Fred Thompson had been a lawyer, lobbyist, radio commentator, minority counsel for the Senate Watergate hearings, and a senator.

Thompson is often best known for being an actor. His credits include "In the Line of Fire," ''The Hunt for Red October," ''Die Hard II" and "Cape Fear."

He was 6-foot-6 and had appeared in some two dozen movies since 1985, and in the NBC drama "Law and Order," where for five years after leaving the Senate in 2002 he played gruff district attorney Arthur Branch.

In May 2007, he left the role, and a month later formed a presidential exploratory committee. He announced a bid for president in 2007 but dropped out in January 2008 after faring poorly in the early going.

After leaving the race, he campaigned extensively for presidential nominee John McCain, then sought support to become chairman of the Republican National Committee but quit that quest after a few months.

Thompson took stock of his life after the January 2002 death of his daughter, Elizabeth Thompson Panici, 38, following an accidental prescription drug overdose.

Thompson's rise to the Senate was atypical. He had never before held public office, but he overwhelmingly won a 1994 special election for Al Gore's old Senate seat after connecting with voters. In 1996 he easily won a six-year term.

Thompson's key prop was a red pickup truck that he used to crisscross the state throughout the campaign. In the end, Thompson captured 60 percent of the vote against then-Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper.

"He's got a little pizzazz, he's got a sense of purpose and he's got an independent streak," Lamar Alexander said shortly after winning election to succeed Thompson in the Senate.

The son of a car salesman, Thompson was born in Sheffield, Ala., and grew up in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., where he was a star athlete. He was 17 when he married Sarah Lindsey. The couple, who divorced in 1985, lived in public housing for a year as newlyweds.

Thompson graduated from Memphis State University in 1964 and earned his law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1967. To pay for school, he worked at a bicycle plant, post office and motel.

Thompson went on to become a lawyer in Nashville. In 1969, he became an assistant U.S. attorney, then volunteered in 1972 to work on the re-election campaign of former Republican Sen. Howard Baker. A year later, Baker selected Thompson to be chief minority counsel on the committee investigating the Watergate scandal.

Afterward, Thompson returned to Tennessee and represented Marie Ragghianti, the head of the Tennessee Parole Board who was fired in 1977 after exposing a pardon-selling scheme.

Ragghianti won reinstatement and her case was made into a 1985 movie titled "Marie," based on the 1983 book "Marie: A True Story," by Peter Maas. The producers asked Thompson to play himself, and the role launched his acting career.

Thompson once called the Senate a "remarkable place" but, like Hollywood, said there was "frustration connected with it."

He said he was disappointed the Governmental Affairs Committee didn't get more time in 1997 to investigate the fund-raising practices of the 1996 presidential election.

Some thought his high-profile role as chairman of the hearings could launch a presidential bid. That did not materialize in 2000 after the hearings were dismissed as political theater.

"They ran me for a while and then they took me out of the race, and all the time I was kind of a bystander," Thompson said in 2002 about speculation over his presidential prospects two years earlier.

Nevertheless, he won praise from some for his commitment to better government.

"He has a real dedication to a lot of the nuts and bolts government reform issues that others just don't care about," Norm Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said at the time.

Just before leaving the Senate, Thompson said too much time was spent on meaningless matters and partisan bickering.

"On important stuff, where the interests are really dug in on both sides, it's extremely difficult to get anything done," Thompson had told AP at the time.

After retiring from the Senate, Thompson took a role on the TV show "Law & Order." In 2007, he portrayed Ulysses S. Grant in the TV movie "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."

In June 2002, Thompson married Jeri Kehn, a political and media specialist.

After retiring from politics, Thompson hosted a conservative radio talk show between 2009 and 2011 and became a TV advertising pitchman for American Advisers Group, a reverse mortgage financial company.

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