James Garner died last night at the age of 86. The ruggedly handsome actor will be remembered always for the 1950s TV Western Maverick and for playing Jim Rockford in the 1970s series The Rockford Files. No cause of death was given but he had suffered from a stroke in 2008 after open-heart surgery. A war hero before he turned to acting, Garner received two Purple Hearts while serving in the Korean War.
Garner’s last screen appearance came in 2006’s The Ultimate Gift, but his last major role in a studio film came opposite Gena Rowlands in the love story The Notebook. He appeared in more than 50 films in a career that spanned 54 years. Among the highlights: an Academy Award nomination in 1985 for the romantic comedy Murphy’s Romance opposite Sally Field in 1985; starring alongside Mel Gibson in the movie version of his signature series Maverick; starring opposite Julie Andrews and Robert Preston in the 1982 Blake Edwards comedy Victor Victoria; and starring in 1990’s celebrated HBO telefilm Barbarians at the Gate, about the RJR-Nabisco merger and corporate greed. He also stepped up to take the lead in 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Daughter, after the death of the show’s star, John Ritter. Garner was a devoted fan of the football Raiders, as identifiable on the sidelines for many years as Jack Nicholson was at Lakers games.
Garner began his career in this industry in 1956 after dabbling as a stage actor. After starring in a few films, Warner Bros. hired him for Maverick and his acting career took off. Audiences will remember him in The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily, and Support Your Local Sheriff! and Move Over, Darling. But he would go back to the small screen and soon take on a role that most everyone remembers him for, the smart, sarcastic and cranky private eye Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files, a role that earned him an Emmy during its six-year run.
His long career also included turns as a fictional president in the comedy My Fellow Americans opposite the late Jack Lemmon and as an astronaut in Space Cowboys opposite Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland.