Thompson launched a successful career in acting after he was given the chance to play himself in the movie, "Marie" starring Sissy Spacek, who played the role of a government whistle blower who helped Thompson bring down Tennessee's Gov. Ray Blanton after she exposed him for selling pardons to hardened criminals. President Bill Clinton imitated Blanton on the way out of office in 2001 and won praise for doing it. How times changed.
After a successful career in Hollywood, Thompson won a seat in the U.S. Senate representing Tennessee in 1994, taking over the seat Al Gore had given up to become Vice President. Thompson served for 8 years in the Senate before returning to his acting career. He briefly ran for president in 2008, but he didn't appear to have much fire in his belly to go the distance. He dropped out after performing badly in the first round of primaries and returned to acting. He has appeared in dozens of movies and is best known for his role as District Attorney Arthur Branch in the "Law & Order" TV series.
Thompson is survived by his second wife, Jeri, a 1988 DePauw University graduate, and five children.