One of the Baddest Actors of All Time, James Garner, Dies at 86

James Garner (Photo: Robert Trachtenberg, TNT)
James Garner (Photo: Robert Trachtenberg, TNT)

Actor James Garner, whose genial charm and sly humor made him a Hollywood fixture for more than 50 years, has died at 86.

The actor was found dead of natural causes at his home in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles late Saturday, Los Angeles police officer Alonzo Iniquez told the Associated Press on Sunday. Iniquez added that family members confirmed Garner’s identity. A more specific cause of death was not available, according to AP.

Tall and handsome, Garner had the leading-man looks that led to roles in big-screen dramas ranging from 1958’s Darby’s Rangers to 1963’s The Great Escape. But his flair for light comedy earned him several starring film roles, and extended to the small screen as well, with series hits Maverick and The Rockford Files.

“I’m a Spencer Tracy-type actor,” Garner once said. “His idea was to be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth. Most every actor tries to make it something it isn’t [or] looks for the easy way out. I don’t think acting is that difficult if you can put yourself aside and do what the writer wrote.”

Garner’s acting career began in 1954 with a non-speaking role in the Broadway play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. Soon after, he landed TV roles, commercials and a movie contract with Warner Bros.

Asked if he would ever do a nude scene, he quipped, “I don’t do horror films.”

Garner gained widespread popularity in 1957 starring as the wisecracking riverboat gambler in the comedy/western Maverick. But Garner left after three years in a dispute over money.

Twenty years later, he won an Emmy for perhaps the role that gave him his most visibility — as James Rockford, the laid-back, beach-dwelling private detective of NBC’s Rockford Files, which ran from 1974 to 1980.

Garner, who did many of his own stunts, ultimately pulled the plug on the show because of the high physical toll on his knees and neck. But the show — and his iconic character — proved so popular that eight Rockford Files TV movies followed.

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Gary Strauss

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