Actor James Garner, best known for his television roles as the wisecracking frontier gambler on Maverick and as an ex-con turned private eye on The Rockford Files, has died at age 86, police said early yesterday.
Garner, who built a six-decade career playing charming anti-heroes and received the highest honour of the Screen Actors Guild in 2004, was found dead from natural causes on Saturday night at his Los Angeles home, police said.
An Oklahoma native, he entered showbusiness in the 1950s after serving in the Korean War and first rose to fame on the TV western Maverick.
Garner left the ABC show in 1960 in a contract dispute with producers but brought his Maverick-like alter ego to films, including Thrill of It All, Move Over, Darling, The Great Escape, and Support Your Local Sheriff!
He once said his screen persona as an easy-going guy smart enough to steer clear of a fight actually ran only so deep.
“At times it’s like me, but I used to have this temper,” he told Reuters in a 2004 interview. “I used to get in a fight in a heartbeat. But that was many years ago.”
With his wry, low-key presence, good looks, and thick dark hair, Garner was hailed by some as a great Hollywood leading man in the making.
But he ended up scoring his next big hit on the small screen in the 1970s, starring as canny private detective Jim Rockford, a wrongly accused ex-convict starting over in a beachfront trailer home on The Rockford Files.
The show ran on NBC from 1974 until Garner quit in 1980. He reprised Rockford for several TV movies in the late 1990s.
The role earned Garner an Emmy Award in 1977. He also received an Oscar nomination for his work in the 1985 comedy Murphy’s Romance.
He returned to the big screen in 2000 in Space Cowboys and two years later in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
In a spate of late-career TV work, Garner appeared on Chicago Hope in 2000 and in the short-lived 2002 series First Monday.
In 2003, he joined the cast of the ABC sitcom 8 Simple Rules. The following year, he starred opposite Gena Rowlands in The Notebook.
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