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Rockford File star dead at 86

Who didn't love the star of Murphy?
Who didn't love the star of Murphy?
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Popular western and detective television scion James Garner has died, TMZ reports. Police responded to a call from the actor's home placed at 8 p.m. late Saturday. Officers at the scene confirmed Garner's identity through family members at the Brentwood, Los Angeles residence, according to statements made by Officer Alonzo Iniquez to the Associated Press early Sunday.

Garner suffered a mild stroke in 2008 on his 80th birthday, but this was no deterrent to the affection the audience bore for the actor, who always let his fans in on the joke, whether it was as Bret Maverick smooth talking his way out of a jam, or reprising the trickster hero for a new generation with The Rockford Files, which ran from 1974 through 1980.

As Detective James Rockford, Garner ushered in a new level of realism for the Western hero. Rockford, while clever, was more pragmatic than procedural, had an aging parent under his care in an unglamorous trailer home, depreciated CIA agents and criminal goons alike while staying one step ahead of Sergeant Dennis, played by Jose Santos.

Garner's popularity as Rockford carried over into his 1985 Oscar nominated "Murphy's Romance," a May-December comedy in which Garner was the unconventional match for Sally Field, who much like Jane Austin's heroines, was challenged to see through the veneer of the socially expected for more core moral values embedded in Garner's Murphy.

The film version of the Lillian Hellman play "The Children's Hour," directed by William Wyler in 1961, with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, and the 1982 "Victor Victoria" with Julie Andrews, offered Garner a chance to bring his wit to bear on the criss cross of sexual orientation and attraction in humorous support to his leading ladies. Ms Andrews later returned the favor by writing an introduction to her colleague's memoir, The Garner Files. "I don't know a lady who isn't a little bit in love with him," she writes. A truer epitaph never was.