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Fred Thompson, Actor-Senator-Reverse Mortgage Pitchman, Dies at 73

Phil Hall
Nov 02, 2015
Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson, whose career trajectory included notable stints in Hollywood and Capitol Hill plus a sometimes controversial presence in the mortgage industry, died in Nashville from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was 73.


Thompson initially began his professional life as an attorney and first gained public attention as minority counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee. His questioning of White House aide Alexander Butterfield regarding White House listening devices led to the revelation of President Nixon’s secret recordings.


Thompson gained new attention in the mid-1980s when he became a film and television actor, appearing in hit films including “Die Hard 2” and “The Hunt for Red October.” In 1994, he switched careers again by running in a special election for the U.S. Senate in his home state of Tennessee. He won that race and was re-elected in 1996 for a full six-year term. He left the Senate in January 2003 and returned to acting, landing the role of a district attorney in the long-running television series “Law and Order.” He briefly returned to politics with a failed run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.


In 2010, Thompson became a presence in the mortgage industry as the paid spokesperson for American Advisors Group, a reverse mortgage originator. For the next five years, Thompson became a ubiquitous presence on television and the Internet via the company's advertising campaigns.


But Thompson’s presence in these promotional endeavors created a great deal of negative commentary among critics of the reverse mortgage product, who argued that his air of authority as both a former senator and as a district attorney on “Law and Order” were being used to tacitly ensure the soundness of the product. In June, even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau joined the naysayers, claiming that an unidentified senior polled for a study on reverse mortgages had complained, “When it’s a former Congressman endorsing it, it makes it sound like a good idea.” One month later, Consumer Reports cited Thompson by name for using his celebrity status to make seniors “more vulnerable to sales pitches for reverse mortgages.” Thompson never publicly acknowledged the criticism.

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