He attended public school in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and graduated from Memphis State University in 1964. He received a J.D. degree from Vanderbilt University in 1967 and was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1967.
He was appointed assistant U.S. attorney 1969-1972; minority counsel, then to the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities ("Watergate Committee") 1973-1974. He became special counsel to Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander in 1980, special counsel, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 1980-1981, Special counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee 1982. He became a member of the Tennessee Appellate Court Nominating Commission 1985-1987.
Thompson was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in the November 8, 1994, special election to fill the unexpired portion of the term ending January 3, 1997, left vacant by the resignation of Albert Gore, Jr. and was re-elected in 1996 for the term ending January 3, 2003.
He is also an actor of note with more than 30 roles according to the International Movie Database including "The Hunt for Red October" and "Die Hard 2". He is currently a co-star of the popular television series "Law and Order"
Thompson announced April 11, 2007 that he's in remission from lymphoma.
"I have had no illness from it, or even any symptoms. My life expectancy should not be affected. I am in remission, and it is very treatable with drugs if treatment is needed in the future—and with no debilitating side effects,".