Actor James Garner Dead At 86

Published on July 21, 2014.
Mark Mainz/Getty Images

(LOS ANGELES) — James Garner, the actor who helped re-define the western and detective genres on television, died Saturday at his California home. He was 86.

Garner first gained fame in the late 1950s on the TV comedy series Maverick. At a time when traditional Westerns were a staple of primetime TV fare, Garner’s wisecracking Bret Maverick — a gambler who’d rather run than fight but who could outdraw most gunfighters — was a tremendous hit, and made Garner a star.

Garner left Maverick after three seasons and built a film career, starring in both comedies and dramas, including the classic 1963 war drama The Great Escape and two hit romantic comedies opposite Doris Day.

In 1974, Garner returned to television in the comedy-drama The Rockford Files. Garner’s take on Jim Rockford, a Los Angeles detective who lived with his father in a run-down mobile home and drove a Pontiac Firebird, was an even bigger hit than Maverick, airing for six seasons and earning Garner a best actor Emmy in 1977. Like Maverick did with Westerns, The Rockford Files in many ways redefined the TV private detective show, and paved the way for similar hits, such as Magnum P.I.

Garner continued to switch between TV and film in his later years, and was nominated for an Oscar in 1985 for starring opposite Sally Field in the romantic comedy Murphy’s Romance.

His later films included 1994’s Maverick, with Mel Gibson playing the title role and Garner starring as his father.

Garner also appeared in 2000’s Space Cowboys opposite Clint Eastwood, 2004’s The Notebook, and had a role on the TV sitcom 8 Simple Rules.

Garner’s autobiography, The Garner Files: A Memoir, was published in 2011. In 2005, Garner received the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.
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