Ken Howard, the president of SAG-AFTRA and a veteran character actor in TV and film, has died. He was 71.

Howard was an Emmy and Tony winner who was highly regarded by those in the entertainment community, winning election to become president of the national chapter of the Screen Actors Guild in 2009. In his post, he advocated for a merger with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a move that he said would strengthen workers' rights in the industry; after he won reelection in 2011, the popular proposal was approved in 2012. Howard went on to win two more consecutive terms at the helm of the joint union, with his most recent election occurring in 2015.

But aside from his advocacy on behalf of SAG members, Howard was more known to national and worldwide audiences thanks to a range of eclectic acting roles throughout his career. He rose to stardom on the 1978-1981 CBS series "The White Shadow," in which he starred as a former NBA player who coached an inner-city high school basketball team. The groundbreaking show, which Howard co-created, dealt with hot-button issues such as sex, drugs, and crime, and the actor pushed network executives to feature controversial storylines that would speak to the young viewers watching at home.

In addition to that series, he also had a memorable turn on NBC sitcom "30 Rock," where he appeared in a recurring role as Hank Hooper, the CEO of Kabletown. Other television work included "The Office" (Mindy Kaling tweeted that Howard -- who popped up as former Dunder Mifflin boss Ed Truck -- featured in "the best onscreen prop photo of all time"), "Crossing Jordan," "Dynasty," and HBO movie "Grey Gardens" (for which he won the best supporting actor Emmy).

On the film side, Howard starred in "1776" (reprising the role of Thomas Jefferson, which he originated on Broadway), "Clear and Present Danger," "Michael Clayton," and "The Judge," among many others. His most recent roles came in two 2015 flicks, "The Wedding Ringer" and "Joy."

"Ken was an inspirational leader, and it is an incredible loss for SAG-AFTRA, for his family and for everyone who knew him," said SAG-AFTRA acting president Gabrielle Carteris in a statement. "He was a light that never dimmed and was completely devoted to the membership. He led us through tumultuous times and set our union on a steady course of excellence. We will be forever in his debt."

Howard, who made his last public appearance at the SAG Awards ceremony in January, passed away at his home near Los Angeles on Wednesday. No cause of death was released.

Howard is survived by his wife, retired stuntwoman Linda Fetters Howard, and three stepchildren.

[via: The Hollywood Reporter]

Photo credit: Getty Images for Turner