Actor James Garner, best known for his prime-time television roles as the wisecracking frontier gambler on Maverick and as an ex-con turned private eye on The Rockford Files, passed away at the age of 86, Los Angeles police confirmed on Sunday, July 20. Garner, who built a six-decade career playing ruggedly charming, good-natured anti-heroes and received the highest honour of the Screen Actors Guild in 2004, was found dead from natural causes at his Los Angeles home. There were no further details immediately available regarding the circumstances that led to his death. Garner underwent surgery for a stroke in 2008, two years after appearing in his last big-screen role as a wealthy grandfather for a film adaptation of the best-selling book The Ultimate Gift.
An Oklahoma native, Garner entered show business in the 1950s after serving in the Korean War and first rose to fame on the TV western Maverick, a sardonic alternative to the more serious frontier shows then popular on American prime time. 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. Garner left the ABC show in 1960 in a contract dispute with producers but brought his Maverick-like alter ego to a series of films, including Thrill of It All, Move Over, Darling, The Great Escape and Support Your Local Sheriff!
With his wry, low-key presence, good looks and thick dark hair, Garner was hailed by some as Hollywood’s next Clark Gable or Cary Grant. 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 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.