Brad William Henke, a veteran character actor known for his work on Orange Is the New Black and other series, has died, according to his agent and manager.
He was 56.
“Brad Henke was an incredibly kind man full of happy energy. As a very talented actor, he loved being a part of this community…and we loved him back,” his manager Matt DelPiano wrote in a statement shared on Instagram. “Our thoughts are with his wife and family.”
Henke “died peacefully in his sleep” on November 29, his agent Sheree Cohen told CNN in a statement.
Born in Columbus, Nebraska and raised in Littleton, Colorado, he received a football scholarship to the University of Arizona.
A standout defenseman, team captain, and all-academic student journalist, Henke was drafted into the National Football League by the New York Giants in 1989 and eventually made the roster for the Denver Broncos and played against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV.
Repeated injuries led to his retirement from the NFL in 1994.
Henke moved to Los Angeles hoping to gain a foothold as a coach and instead found himself in front of the camera after participating in an open call for a commercial searching for “big boys”.
He found work in Hollywood as quickly as he did on the field, and soon had dozens of appearances on television shows including ER, Silk Stalkings, Arli$$, and more.
He also landed supporting roles in films such as “Space Jam” and “Mr. Not correct.”
But it was his breakthrough role in 2017 as Desi Piscatella, a gay correctional officer at Litchfield Federal Penitentiary, on the hit Netflix series Orange Is the New Black that earned him a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
He has appeared in more than 40 films, including Bright, Fury, Me and You and Everyone We Know and Choke, the latter of which won a Special Jury Award for Ensemble Work at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Henke opened an acting studio in Los Angeles in 2000, where he helped direct the careers of other actors.
His contacts with his professional peers also included producing showcases, helping his students place agents, and teaching his acting skills to aspiring filmmakers, including Short Term 12 and Willy’s Wonderland.
An avid NFL and UFC fan, he was also a devoted family man who, according to his agent, “frequently visited his mother, enjoyed taking his stepson to soccer games and gymnastics, and adored his dog Ruby.”
Henke is survived by his mother Tammy, sister Annette, wife Sonja, stepson Aaden, stepdaughter Leasa and granddaughter Amirah.