Brad William Henke, a former NFL player who segued to acting and appeared in TV series including Orange Is the New Black, Justified and Lost and such films as Pacific Rim and World Trade Center, has died. He was 56. His family said Henke died in his sleep November 29, but no cause was given.
Born on April 10, 1966, in Columbus, NE, and raised in Littleton, CO, Henke played college football at the University of Arizona, where he was team captain and an All-Academic student journalist. Drafted by the New York Giants in 1989, he went on to play on the defensive line for the Denver Broncos and appeared in Super Bowl XXIV.
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After injuries forced him to retire in 1994, Henke moved to Los Angeles to pursue coaching. An open call for “big guys” to do a commercial soon led to a new career. He began to score guest spots on such TV series as ER, Chicago Hope, Silk Stockings, Nash Bridges and Arli$$ and continued to work regularly until this year, racking up nearly 100 credits.
The actor landed his first major recurring role on the 2000-02 WB Network comedy Nikki, starring Nikki Cox, and was cast as a lead opposite Sam Trammell in Showtime’s road-trip dramedy Going to California, which lasted one season.
Along with more guest roles on series including CSI, Crossing Jordan and Judging Amy, Henke had small parts in a number of features during the early 2000s. He appeared in The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Must Love Dogs, The Zodiac, North Country, World Trade Center and Hollywoodland before being cast on Showtime’s Dexter as Tony Tucci, a murder suspect-turned-near-victim who recurred in four episodes.
Henke got his second series-regular role on ABC’s short-lived 2007 drama October Road.
After that, he guested on such series as Law & Order, Life on Mars and CSI: Miami before being cast on ABC’s Lost as Bram, recurring on a half-dozen episodes in in 2009-10. Henke went on to play Coover Bennett in seven Season 2 episodes of FX’s Justified and did an arc on Fox’s 2011 Shawn Ryan drama The Chicago Code.
He also appeared in the feature Choke, which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and shared a Special Jury Prize for its ensemble cast. Henke also did mid-2010s arcs on FX’s The Bridge and Prime Video’s Sneaky Pete. He then scored perhaps his best-known role.
Henke was cast in Jenji Kohan’s Showtime dramedy Orange Is the New Black as Desi Piscatella, a gay corrections officer at Litchfield Federal Penitentiary. He appeared in more than two dozen episodes from 2016-18 and shared a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2017. The cast was nominated again the following year.
Henke also recurred as Big John in the second season of Discovery’s Manhunt in 2020 and as Tom Cullen in CBS All Access’ The Stand in 2020-21. His other most recent credits include Law & Order: SVU and the 2022 films Block Party and Run & Gun.
Henke is survived by his mother, Tammy; his sister, Annette; his wife, Sonja; stepson Aaden; stepdaughter Leasa; and grandchild Amirah, hundreds of friends, fellow actors, and students. He was proceeded in death by his father, Bill, to whom he paid tribute with his professional name.
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