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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 December 2007, 22:30 GMT
Profile: Fred Thompson
Fred Thompson, a 64-year-old Hollywood character actor and former senator from Tennessee, has a populist style and show-biz allure.

Fred Thompson
Actor Thompson has played a number of government roles

The six-foot-six (two-metre) Republican with a powerful presence and a deep Southern drawl has huge name recognition.

Most recently, viewers will know him as Arthur Branch, Law & Order's straight-talking Southern district attorney.

Hollywood directors have often turned to Mr Thompson to personify government power: a White House chief of staff, a CIA director, FBI agent, a rear admiral and senator.

The son of a used-car salesman has even tried out the top role twice - in 2005 as a fictional president in the little-known film Last Best Chance and again, two years later, as President Ulysses S Grant in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

While the presidential candidate appears to have been made for the screen, he fell into acting by accident.

During a successful career as a lawyer, he was asked to read for a part in a film based on one of his high-profile cases. He ended up playing himself in the 1985 film Marie, starring Sissy Spacek and Morgan Freeman.

Some 18 years later, via a string of cinema and TV movies, he landed the part of Branch in the long-running police and legal drama set in New York City.

Marie (1985): Himself
No Way Out (1987): CIA Director Marshall
The Hunt For Red October: Rear Admiral Joshua Painter
Days of Thunder (1990): Big John
Die Hard 2 (1990): Trudeau
Cape Fear (1991): Tom Broadbent

Inevitably, Fred Thompson has drawn the comparisons with Ronald Reagan, another actor-cum-politician.

In real life, Thompson likes to play on his strengths: his easygoing, no-nonsense style and characteristic folksy humour.

The first time he campaigned - for the Senate seat left vacant by Vice-President Al Gore in 1994 - he did so in jeans, scuffed boots and a shiny red 1990 pickup truck. He often referred to himself as an "average Tennessean".

But, despite this apparent easy-going persona, some say his manner can be brusque.

Lobbying career

Mr Thompson has claimed to be both the true conservative in the Republican presidential contest and the genuine outsider.

Fred Thompson with his wife Jeri
Thompson with his glamorous second wife Jeri, 24 years his junior
But critics dismiss his "outsider" status, arguing that the former senator and long-time political lobbyist is too connected to the halls of power in Washington.

Mr Thompson first achieved fame when he came to Washington as a young lawyer for a Senate committee during the Watergate hearings in the 1970s. It was his questioning of former Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield that uncovered the president's secret tape recording system.

It was he who asked the all important question: "Mr Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?"

He later went on to forge a lucrative career as a lobbyist - a career he has been recently forced to defend amid questions about some of his clients, who have included deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

He also lobbied federal government on behalf of the failed savings and loan industry in the 1980s and on behalf of a company which wanted an experimental nuclear reactor, which was later cancelled at a cost of $1.7bn to taxpayers.

Congress record

Fred is a perfect example of chivalry. He's the kind of man little girls dream about marrying
Lorrie Morgan, country singer and ex-girlfriend
It is widely agreed that Mr Thompson has plenty of style. Whether he has enough substance to make a successful candidate is open to question.

His eight years in Congress have been described as lacklustre by critics and he was perceived by some to have been lazy in office.

Since he formally launched his candidacy in September, observers have questioned his commitment to campaigning and whether he has "the fire in the belly" to go all the way.

Polls in the run-up to the primary season put him a distant third behind front-runners Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in Iowa and ouside the top three in New Hampshire and nationally.

Blue-collar roots

Mr Thompson lives in a $3m home in McLean, Virginia and is married to Jeri Kehn Thompson, a glamorous, 40-year-old former Capitol Hill strategist, with whom he has two young children.

But despite the glamour, he has blue-collar roots.

Fred Dalton Thompson was born in 1942, in Sheffield, Alabama. He grew up in Lawrenceburg, a small town just over the state line in Tennessee.

He put himself through college at Memphis State and law school at Vanderbilt.

After several years in private practice, building a solid reputation as a trial lawyer, he worked as a federal prosecutor.

He was appointed counsel on the Watergate hearing by his political mentor Senator Howard Baker, a top Republican on the Senate investigative committee in 1973.

Personal life

Mr Thompson retired from the Senate in 2002, shortly before marrying Jeri Kehn, 24 years his junior.

It was his second marriage. His first, at the age of 17, ended amicably in 1985. Almost two decades later, one of his daughters from that marriage, Betsy, died suddenly from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

He was single during the 1990s, when he played the field enthusiastically.

"I was single for a long time and yep I chased a lot of women," Mr Thompson is reported to have said. "And a lot of women chased me. And those who chased me tended to catch me."

One ex-girlfriend, country singer Lorrie Morgan, told The Sunday Times: "Fred is a perfect example of chivalry. He's the kind of man little girls dream about marrying, who opens doors for you, lights your cigarettes, helps you on with your coat, buys wonderful gifts. It's every woman's fantasy."

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