Today the world mourns the loss of another Hollywood icon, veteran actor Clifton James. James lived to the age of 96 and had a robust career that spanned nearly six decades with roles in film, television, and stage, with his first role in 1954 and his most recent film credit as late as 2016. Screen Rant readers will recognize Clifton James as memorable southern Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two James Bond films opposite Bond actor Roger Moore, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. James was also known for portraying similar sheriff roles in notable films like Superman II and Silver Streak.
James was born May 29, 1920 in Spokane, Washington as the oldest of five siblings, and the only son. His mother was a teacher and his father a journalist. He was raised near Portland, Oregon during the height of the Great Depression. A decorated World War II veteran, James served nearly five years in the South Pacific and has earned numerous decorations for his service including a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts.
After leaving the Army, James took classes and acted in plays at the University of Oregon before moving to New York to launch his acting career. His first stage appearance was The Time of Your Life, and he continued to perform in numerous stage plays on Broadway.
Despite being a northerner with a love of theater, his most famous role came on film as the tobacco spitting southern sheriff from Louisiana in 1973’s Live and Let Die. The stark comedic contrast to Roger Moore’s cool, sophisticated James Bond proved to be so popular with audiences that the writers wrote the comic-relief character into the next James Bond film, 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. This entry saw the popular character bringing even more comedic relief to the film as it took the southern sheriff out of the south and into Thailand. His knack for portraying a cigar-chomping, tobacco chewing southerners carried over in many other film roles, as in his role of Carr in Cool Hand Luke. James also acted opposite to Bruce Willis in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Robert De Niro in an uncredited role as a district attorney who prosecuted Al Capone in The Untouchables.
On television, James had appeared in Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Dukes of Hazard, Lewis & Clark, The A-Team, Dallas, and more. As a lover of celebrating holidays with his wife, Laurie, James once played Kris Kringle in a 1996 episode of long-running soap opera All My Children. Perhaps his most notable television role, however, is that of powerful Houston lawyer Striker Bellman in the soap opera Texas, from 1981 to 1982.
James leaves behind his wife, his five children, 14 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, as well his two younger sisters Cicely and Beverley. He will be missed.
R.I.P. Clifton James – May 29, 1920 – April 15, 2017