In 1994, Mr. Thompson successfully earned a seat in the U.S. Senate, in the race to serve out the remainder of then-Vice President Al Gore’s term in the Senate. He defeated current U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, by a wide margin.
While Cooper criticized Mr. Thompson for acting like a Tennessean while living the life of a Washington lobbyist and Hollywood star, Mr. Thompson argued in a New York Times article that “in many respects, I am an average Tennessean.”
“I worked in a factory. I drive a truck. I practice law. I was a Federal prosecutor. I’ve worked without health insurance. I’ve worked for minimum wage…Like a lot of people in Tennessee, I had to get with it to get by,” Thompson told the Times in 1994.
Mr. Thompson won re-election in 1996 by an equally wide margin, but chose not to run again in 2002.
He returned to acting, assuming his well-known role on “Law and Order” in 2002. However, he started to again move away from acting and back toward politics in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. Eventually announcing as a candidate, Thompson underwhelmed. He never placed higher than third in any of the early primary states, and dropped out of the race in late January of 2008.
In his book “Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing Up and Second Chances,” Mr. Thompson described his failed candidacy as the first time in his life he “couldn’t accomplish something I had set out to do.”
“It occurred to me that, to paraphrase one of Churchill’s comments, perhaps I had more to be humble about that I had realized. It also occurred to me that this was a pretty doggone expensive way to achieve a little humility,” Mr. Thompson wrote in the book, published in 2010.
“Maybe I needed to be reminded of what an old-timer told me years ago after I’d had some success: ‘Just remember, son, the turnout at your funeral is still going to depend a hell of a lot on the weather.’”