Memphis remembers former US Senator and actor Fred Thompson

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- With his booming voice and six-foot-six frame, former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee personified being larger than life.

WREG Political Analyst Susan Adler Thorp knew Thompson well and interviewed him many times when she was a newspaper columnist.

"He was very tall and a commanding figure. He was nice. He was country smart, and he had this embracing personality that made everyone feel at ease," Thorp said.

Fred Dalton Thompson was born in Sheffield, Alabama though he grew up in Tennessee. Years later, he came to Memphis as a student to attend Memphis State University now the University of Memphis where he graduated in 1964.

"When the university had its centennial, he was the voice of the centennial video and spoke proudly and magnificently of the university's accomplishments," Political Commentator and University of Memphis Journalism Professor Otis Sanford said.

Thompson earned his law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1967.

To a generation of Americans old enough to remember the Watergate Hearings, Thompson was the Senate attorney whose question to a White House aide revealed that President Richard Nixon had recorded conversations in the Oval Office.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said Thompson impacted many lives in Memphis.

"Like so many people, our first introduction to Fred Thompson was the Senate Watergate Committee. He had a full head of hair, and we took pride in the fact that he was a Memphis State graduate," Luttrell said.

But to another generation, Fred Thompson was also known as the actor. He appeared in feature films and television, including "Law & Order," and in at least 20 motion pictures such as "In the Line of Fire," "Die Hard 2" and "The Hunt for Red October."

"People who watched him in the movies know what kind of presence he had. All you have to do is watch "The Hunt for Red October," Sanford said.

But in the early 1990s, Thompson said he become bored with his 10-year stint in Hollywood.

He wanted to get back into public service and won a 1994 special election for Al Gore's old Senate seat.

In 2007, he made a brief run for president before dropping out of the race.

"He embodied what we look for in Tennessee politicians, and that is savvy and country smart and that down home feel and that kindness and generosity. He will be missed," Thorp said.

Thompson's family said Sunday that he always stood by his principles, and he considered serving in the Senate as a privilege.