Rockford Files and Maverick star James Garner dies aged 86

Rockford Files actor also conquered the big screen in The Great Escape

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 4:51am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 4:51am

James Garner

Actor James Garner, best known for his prime-time television roles as the wise-cracking frontier gambler in Maverick and as an ex-con turned private eye on The Rockford Files, has died aged 86.

Garner, who received the highest honour of the Screen Actors Guild in 2005, died from natural causes on Saturday at his Los Angeles home.

Garner, an Oklahoma native, entered show business in the 1950s after serving in the Korean war and first rose to fame on the western Maverick, a sardonic alternative to the more serious frontier shows then popular on American prime time television.

He was Bret Maverick, a cardsharp and ladies' man who got by on his wits instead of a six-gun and would just as soon duck a fight as face a showdown. Co-star Jack Kelly played his more straight-laced brother, Bart.

Garner left the ABC show in 1960 in a contract dispute, but took his Maverick-like alter ego onto the big screen in a series of films, including The Great Escape and Support Your Local Sheriff!

Garner 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 said in a 2004 interview. "I used to get in a fight in a heartbeat."

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 life over in a beachfront trailer home, on The Rockford Files.

The show ran on NBC from 1974 until Garner abruptly quit the series in 1980. The role earned Garner an Emmy Award in 1977.

He also received an Oscar nomination for his role opposite Sally Field in the 1985 comedy Murphy's Romance.

Garner said his favourite role was as the cowardly US soldier who falls for Julie Andrews before being sent on a dangerous wartime mission in the 1964 film The Americanization of Emily.

He returned to the big screen in 2000 in Clint Eastwood's astronaut adventure Space Cowboys.

His last major hit was in 2004, starring opposite Gena Rowlands as the devoted elderly husband of an Alzheimer's sufferer in Nick Cassavetes' adaptation of the bestseller The Notebook.


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