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Award winning American actor James Garner dead at 86

James Garner
James Garner
Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images

James Garner passed away Saturday evening from natural causes, he was 86 years old. Best known for his role as Jim Rockford in the television show "The Rockford Files" and for co-starring in such films as "The Great Escape", "The Notebook", "Space Cowboys" and "Maverick". He also starred on several pictures where he played the leading man in "Murphy's Romance", "Tank", "Skin Game", "Grand Prix" and "Victor/Victoria". Garner was an avid sportsman who loved to golf, owned a racing team, a supporter of the Democratic Party and was a booster for the University of Oklahoma.

Born James Scott Bumgarner on April 7, 1928 in Norman, Oklahoma. He left school to join the National Guard and after seven months he was sent to Korea and spent over a year in the U.S. Army's 5th Regimental Combat Unit where he earned two Purple Hearts. Garner became involved in show business when a friend of his got him a non-speaking role on the Broadway production of "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial". From then on he was bit by the acting bug and continued to pursue a career as an actor.

Garner's onscreen career began in 1956 with bit parts on television and in films. In 1958 he starred in his first film the William Wellman directed "Darby's Rangers" (due to Charlton Heston quitting his role, Garner was bumped up from supporting to lead actor). He continued to be featured his starring roles such as "Up Periscope", "Cash McCall" and "Boys Night Out". During this time, Garner was also becoming a star on the small screen with his role in the T.V. series "Maverick" and in 1963, he co-starred in the World War II epic "The Great Escape" where he played a "Hendley the Scrounger" character similar to his duties in Korea. His star continued to rise in Hollywood as he became a leading man in bigger studio productions.

His roles were mainly as an action star appearing in westerns, thrillers and a few comedies. Garner would later find success once again in television with the T.V. series "The Rockford Files" in the iconoclassic role of "Jim Rockford". As the eighties came and went, Garner's activity as an actor slowed down but he did receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in the 1986 film "Murphy's Romance". In the nineties Garner won Golden Globes for Best Actor in a TV mini-series or film for his roles in "Barbarians at the Gate (1994)" and "Decoration Day (1991)". Garner would also revive his character Jim Rockford for a series of "Rockford Files" made-for-T.V. films.

Garner's career seemed to be on the upswing again in the 2000's as he made guest starring roles in film and television. He co-starred with Clint Eastwood in the 2000 film "Space Cowboys" as a retired astronaut brought back into service, "Eight Simple Rules" in a recurring role as Grandpa Jim, "The Notebook" and did some voice over work as well. In 2011 he published his memoirs "The Garner Files: A Memoir". He is survived by his wife of sixty years Lois Clarke, their daughter Gigi and stepdaughter Kim.

James Garner was one of those rugged actors who had a very strong on screen presence and charisma. He is also part of the dying breed of Hollywood who is irreplaceable and will surely be missed.

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