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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Fred Thompson, a folksy former Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee who appeared in feature films and television including a role on "Law & Order," died Sunday, his family said.

He was 73.

Thompson, at 6-foot-6 with a booming voice, appeared in at least 20 motion pictures. His credits include "In the Line of Fire," "The Hunt for Red October," "Die Hard II" and "Cape Fear."

By the early 1990s, Thompson said he had become bored with his 10-year stint in Hollywood and wanted to go into public service. That's when he headed back to Nashville and launched his Senate campaign. A man of many roles in life and on the screen, he was a lawyer by training and also once served as a chief minority counsel during the Senate Watergate hearings.

The family statement said Thompson died in Nashville following a recurrence of lymphoma.

"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," it said. "Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio or the town square of ... his home."

Politics: Thompson, a lawyer, alternated between politics and acting much of his adult life. Once regarded as a rising star in the Senate, he retired from that seat when his term expired in January 2003.

"I simply do not have the heart for another six-year term," Thompson said in a statement at the time. "Serving in the Senate has been a tremendous honor, but I feel that I have other priorities that I need to attend to."

However, he returned to politics in 2007 by announcing he would seek the Republican presidential nomination. But he dropped out in January 2008 after faring poorly in the early caucuses and primaries. "I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort," Thompson said at the time.

After leaving the race, he campaigned extensively for his party's presidential nominee, John McCain, then sought support to become chairman of the Republican National Committee but quit that quest after a few months.

"He's got a little pizazz, he's got a sense of purpose and he's got an independent streak," Lamar Alexander said shortly after winning election to succeed Thompson in the Senate.

Alexander, the Republican senator, said Sunday that Thompson would be greatly missed: "Very few people can light up the room the way Fred Thompson did. He used his magic as a lawyer, actor, Watergate counsel, and United States senator to become one of our country's most principled and effective public servants."

Thompson once called the Senate a "remarkable place" but, like Hollywood, said there was "frustration connected with it."

Just before leaving the Senate, Thompson said too much time was spent on meaningless matters and partisan bickering. "On important stuff, where the interests are really dug in on both sides, it's extremely difficult to get anything done," Thompson told AP at the time.

After retiring from the Senate, Thompson took a role on the TV show "Law & Order." In 2007, he portrayed Ulysses S. Grant in the TV movie "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."

In June 2002, Thompson married Jeri Kehn, a political and media specialist.

After retiring from politics, Thompson hosted a conservative radio talk show between 2009 and 2011 and became a TV advertising pitchman for a reverse mortgage financial company.

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