Brad William Henke, an NFL player who later earned a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for playing a gay corrections officer in the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” has died. He was 56.
The former defensive lineman “died peacefully in his sleep” on Tuesday, his agent, Sheree Cohen, said Friday. No cause of death was provided.
“Brad was such a wonderful, kind person and had a true passion for acting. Our thoughts are with his wife and family at this time,” Cohen said in a statement to The Times.
Country musician Jake Flint died in his sleep Saturday at age 37. The Tulsa, Okla.-based singer-songwriter had tied the knot earlier that day.
Henke, who appeared in more than 40 films, was born in Columbus, Neb.., and raised in Littleton, Colo. He played college football on a scholarship at the University of Arizona and was a standout defensive lineman, team captain and All-Academic student journalist, his agent said. He went pro in 1989 when the New York Giants drafted him. He later played for the Denver Broncos and made it to Super Bowl XXIV against the San Francisco 49ers, although his team was defeated 55–10 during the 1990 match-up.
Henke retired from the game in 1994 after repeated injuries, but swiftly transitioned to a career in acting after moving to L.A. to become a coach. Here, he answered an open call for a commercial looking for “big guys,” then began working in theater and steadily booked work on several 1990s TV series, including “Chicago Hope,” “Silk Stalkings,” “Nash Bridges” and “ER.” He also appeared as a catcher in the 1996 animation hybrid “Space Jam.”
The actor had longer stints in drama series including the ABC series “October Road” and “Lost,” FX’s “Justified,” “Going to California” on Showtime and the sitcom “Nikki” on the WB.
In 2000, he opened an acting studio in Los Angeles where he is credited with guiding the careers of hundreds of actors.
“Always attempting to aid struggling artists, Henke would produce showcases, call agents for his students and lend his acting abilities to up-and-coming filmmakers in shorts that would become features, including ‘Short Term 12’ and ‘Willy’s Wonderland,’” his agent said.
Like most of Netflix’s biggest successes since, “Orange Is the New Black” was a word-of-mouth sensation that broke out despite having no stars.
However, his most notable role was that of Desi Piscatella in Netflix’s groundbreaking original comedy. Henke appeared in 26 episodes during the Emmy and SAG Award-winning comedy’s last three seasons.
“Brad Henke was an incredibly kind man of joyous energy. A very talented actor, he loved being a part of this community … and we loved him back. Our thoughts are with his wife and family,” his manager Matt DelPiano wrote Thursday on Instagram.
Henke is survived by his mother, Tammy; his sister Annette; his wife, Sonja; his stepson, Aaden; stepdaughter, Leasa; and grandchild, Amirah.