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 of joyous energy. 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 earned a football scholarship to the University of Arizona.
A standout defensive lineman, 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 it to the roster for the Denver Broncos and played in Super Bowl XXIV against the San Francisco 49ers.
Repeated injuries led to his retirement from the NFL in 1994.
Henke moved to Los Angeles hoping to break into coaching and instead found himself in front of the camera after he attended an open call for a commercial looking for “big guys.”
He was as swift to find work in Hollywood as he was on the field and he soon racked up dozens of appearances on television series, including “ER,” “Silk Stalkings,” “Arli$$” and more.
He also landed supporting roles in films like “Space Jam” and “Mr. Wrong.”
But it was his breakout role in 2017 playing Desi Piscatella, a gay corrections officer at Litchfield Federal Penitentiary on the hit Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” which earned him a SAG Award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series.
He appeared in more than 40 films like “Bright, Fury,” “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and “Choke,” the latter of which won a Special Jury Prize for work by an ensemble cast at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Henke opened an acting studio in Los Angeles in 2000 where he helped to guide the careers of other actors.
His outreach to those in his profession also included producing showcases, helping his students land agents and lending his acting abilities to up-and-coming filmmakers, including “Short Term 12” and “Willy’s Wonderland.”
An avid NFL and UFC fan, he was also a devoted family man who “visited his mother frequently, loved taking his stepson to soccer games and gymnastics and adored his dog, Ruby” according to his agent.
Henke is survived by his mother Tammy, his sister Annette, his wife Sonja, his stepson Aaden, his stepdaughter Leasa and his grandchild Amirah.