Actor Brad William Henke, of ‘Orange Is the New Black,' Dead at 56

Born in Nebraska, Henke attended the University of Arizona on a football scholarship

HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 13: Brad William Henke arrives at FX's "Justified" series finale premiere held at The Ricardo Montalban Theatre on April 13, 2015 in Hollywood, California.
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Football player turned actor Brad William Henke has passed away.

The "Orange Is the New Black" actor died in his sleep Nov. 29, his agent Sheree Cohen told E! News. He was 56.

"Brad was an incredibly kind man of joyous energy," his manager Matt DelPiano added in a statement to E! News. "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 cause of death has not been revealed.

Born in Nebraska, Henke attended the University of Arizona on a football scholarship before going on to play for the Denver Broncos, according to his agent. He played in the 1990 Super Bowl but injuries led to his NFL retirement in 1994.

After leaving professional sports behind, Henke found success as an actor, appearing in "Lost," "Dexter," "ER," "October Road," "Law & Order," "The Chicago Code," "The Stand" and more shows.

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He's best known for playing prison guard Desi Piscatella in Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black," earning him and the cast a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2016.

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"I tried to be a football coach and honestly, it was a tough couple of years," he shared in 2021 while reflecting on his career move. "I didn't know what to do with my life. Luckily, I needed money, so I jumped at being an extra football player in a commercial; they needed football extras in the back of the commercial. After that, someone invited me to an acting class, saw what they were doing there, started going to class, and I just loved it." 

According to Henke, the NFL actually prepared him well for onscreen work, as he noted, "Football helped me learn how to be disciplined, how to take criticism, to always try your best, so you can definitely use some of the same things and that was a big help for me when I started acting." 

Last year, he said he was keeping busy with his two kittens, his puppy and plenty of bike riding.

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