Actor James Garner of 'The Rockford Files' dead at 86

Sun Jul 20, 2014 2:39pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - 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," has died at age 86, Los Angeles police confirmed early on Sunday.

Garner, who built a six-decade career playing ruggedly charming, good-natured anti-heroes and received the highest honor of the Screen Actors Guild in 2004, was found dead from natural causes on Saturday night at his Los Angeles home, according to police.

There were no further details immediately available on the circumstances of 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. Co-star Jack Kelly played his more straight-laced brother, Bart.

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!"

Garner once said his screen persona as an easy-going guy smart enough to steer clear of a fight actually ran only so deep.

“"At times it's like me, but I used to have this temper," he told Reuters in a 2004 interview. “"I used to get in a fight in a heartbeat. But that was many years ago."   Continued...

James Garner holds out his arms at the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, February 5, 2005. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson