Thompson began his career as an attorney, a job that won him a role on the Watergate committee. Later, he tried his hand at acting, appearing in numerous TV series and films starting in the late '80s, often playing tough cops, military men, or politicians.
In 1994, he ran for and won Al Gore's Senate seat in Tennessee, and ran for president in 2008 as a Republican. He announced his candidacy on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Unsuccessful, he campaigned for the McCain/Palin ticket.
In recent years, Thompson has been a familiar face on commercials for reverse mortgages, which were running at the time of his unexpected death following a recurrence of lymphoma.
A family statement read:
"It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of grief that we share the passing of our brother, father and grandfather who died peacefully in Nashville. Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of ... his home."