Film and Television Icon James Garner Passes Away at 86

Published 9 months ago by

James Garner as Jim Rockford1 Film and Television Icon James Garner Passes Away at 86
One of the most famous, beloved and iconic stars of TV and the big screen has been lost. James Garner, star of such classic television series as The Rockford Files and Maverick and known for his roles in movies like Murphy’s RomanceThe Great Escape and Space Cowboys has passed away at the age of 86.

THR reports that Garner was found Saturday evening by Los Angeles police, dead in his home in Brentwood, California, of apparently natural causes. Garner’s charming, genial presence always seemed to immediately improve whatever he turned up in, from his role as a suspicious police lieutenant in the mostly forgettable 1993 alien abduction flick Fire in the Sky to his key turn as the romantic old codger in The Notebook.

He will be forever remembered for his classic leading roles in the TV series Maverick and The Rockford Files, but he was also nominated for an Oscar for his performance opposite Sally Field in Murphy’s Romance and was part of a legendary ensemble in the classic World World II POW drama The Great Escape. There was no one else like James Garner, and he will be sorely missed by fans around the world.

James Garner in The Rockford Files1 Film and Television Icon James Garner Passes Away at 86

James Garner in ‘The Rockford Files’

Born James Scott Bumgarner on April 7, 1928 in Norman, Oklahoma, Garner was the son of Weldon Bumgarner, a carpet layer, and Mildred Scott. His mother was of Cherokee descent and died when Garner was five years old. Garner and his older brothers, the actor Jack Garner (who appeared in many of his younger brother’s projects) and school administrator Charles Bumgarner – both deceased – lived with relatives after their mother’s death until 1934, when their father married their stepmother, Wilma.

By all accounts, the boys hated their stepmother, with Jack Garner once observing that “She was a damn no-good woman.” Garner was evidently once punished by her by being forced to wear a dress in public, which resulted in a knock-down, drag-out fight, and which ended that marriage.

Garner joined the Merchant Marines toward the end of World War II and eventually served in the Korean War in the Army. He was wounded twice (once in the buttocks) and was awarded two Purple Hearts for the injuries. After his honorable discharge, Garner attended the University of Oklahoma.

His first role was a non-speaking part in a Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, which was directed by the great Charles Laughton and starred Henry Fonda. Garner said the experience taught him to listen as an actor, rather than waiting for his chance to speak. He moved to television commercials and small parts on series like the Western Cheyenne before receiving his big break in the late 1950s as the titular gambler and con man in Maverick.

James Garner as Bret Maverick Film and Television Icon James Garner Passes Away at 86

James Garner in ‘Maverick’

As Bret Maverick, Garner played a sort of anti-gunfighter, a cardsharp who preferred talking his way out of trouble (after often talking his way into trouble in the first place). The show was a hit, running from 1957-1960 with Garner in the lead, and was remembered fondly enough into the ’90s, when director Richard Donner and screenwriter William Goldman updated Maverick for the big screen in 1994 with Mel Gibson in the role, and Garner co-starring.

Maverick paved the way for his successful film career in the 1960s. He starred with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine in The Children’s Hour, co-starred with Doris Day in the light comedies Move Over, Darling and The Thrill of it All, joined Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Richard Attenborough for the classic The Great Escape, and played legendary lawman Wyatt Earp in Hour of the Gun.

After a short-lived series called Nichols, Garner landed the iconic role of ramshackle private eye Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files, which ran from 1974-1980, making him a star for a whole new generation. The brainchild of producer Roy Huggins, the show was actually an attempt to remake Maverick as a modern-day private investigator, and a number of plots from the older show were re-used in some form. Garner won an Emmy for the role in 1977.

Years of doing his own stunts and working long hours to appear off-camera with other actors (rare for a leading man in a series like that) took their toll and Garner was forced to leave the show in 1980. He was later involved in at least two ongoing lawsuits with Universal over The Rockford Files.

James Garner and Gena Rowlands in The Notebook Film and Television Icon James Garner Passes Away at 86

James Garner and Gena Rowlands in ‘The Notebook’

Garner was nominated for Best Actor for Murphy’s Romance for his role as a free-thinking small-town pharmacist, and appeared in a number of well-regarded TV movies in the ’80s, including the HBO movie Barbarian at the Gate, playing multi-millionaire F. Ross Johnson in the story of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco.

In his later years, Garner’s presence proved unfailingly welcome, such as his role as the older version of hopeless romantic Ryan Gosling in The Notebook, appearing on the sitcom 8 Simple Rules following the death of John Ritter, reprising the role of Jim Rockford for a series of TV movies in the ’90s, teaming up with Jack Lemmon to play two former U.S. presidents on the run in the comedy My Fellow Americans, and co-starring as an elderly astronaut alongside Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland in Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys.

Garner continued to work up until just a few years ago, voicing the wizard Shazam in DC Showcase  Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black AdamPlans to remake The Rockford Files for film or television have persisted for years, but continually lack a leading man of Garner’s charm and magnetism.

James Garner is survived by his wife of 58 years, Lois Clarke and their daughter Greta Garner. All of us here at Screen Rant wish to express our deepest condolences to Garner’s family, friends and fans. The world has lost one of the last of the great screen stars.

R.I.P. James Garner: April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014

Source: THR

Follow Anthony Vieira on Twitter @malaclyptic
TAGS: Obituaries
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  1. Tremendous actor.

  2. In the list of movies how could forget two of my favorite western comedies. Support your local Gunfighter and Support your local Sheriff. Anyway R.I.P. Mr. Garner you will be missed.

    • Agreed. If anyone has not seen these two movies I suggest they have a movie night. RIP

    • i was gonna post the same thing. great movies!

  3. James Garner’s mother wasn’t Cherokee. It’s more fiction. His mother/grandparents/great-grandparents/etc. were all listed as white on censuses.

  4. I grew up watching maverick and jim rockford and loved him as an actor. He always brought charm and depth to his roles and ill miss him now i know hes gone.He was just so likeable in so many roles. RIP you legend.

  5. Terrible news.
    RIP James.

  6. And another one of the great ones is lost… :(


  7. This guy was my dads hero when he was little my pop grew up on the Rockford files and he still loves them today. When my mom and dad split and he was vowing through a tough time I brought over the entire first season to watch with him and almost any time he and I were having a rough day where we felt life sucked he and I would have a Rockford night after I finished my hw. It’s really sad that he’s gone well still has those Rockford nights but we will be bummed out that Mr. Garner won’t be laughing at the fun times he had in past any more. Do rest in peace Garber and thanks for helping me and my dad for the past crazy years. :)

  8. Your service will be sincerely appreciated with respect.

    R.I.P from Republic of Korea

  9. James Garner made acting look so natural. A great movie and television actor who will be sadly missed.

  10. The Americanization of Emily (with Juliie Andrews and numerous other stars). One of my favorites.

  11. James Garner you will be missed I grew up watching you and you helped bring some joy to a kid whose parents were going through a divorce. My girls age 10 & 19 have also been fans since they could understand what they were watching.

    Your in a better place now R.I.P.

  12. an underrated film he and bruce willis are in called sunset directed by blake edwards. very strange film. i liked it.

  13. So long Jimbo , Rocky’s waiting with a fishing rod and a beer

  14. Grew up watching Rockford Files and really liked the actor a lot !
    Guess he had this influence on me and many of the kids of my Generation !
    Sad will be missed !

  15. How sad. R.I.P

  16. Watch Rockford almost every day. Loved Jim the character and Jim the actor. The cast one of the best ever assembled. Never expected to be so addicted at age 83.

  17. I study the craft, and watching Mr. Garner over the years has been a valuable lesson. I won’t forget him saying that while working with Henry Fonda he learned to listen rather than waiting to speak.
    RIP Jack Garner you will be missed.

  18. This year we have lost some great, Legendary Actors; but this one moves me personally. My grandfather passed away 2 years ago, and while I was staying with him in Hawaii we would watch “Support your local Sheriff, Rockford Files, and Maverick” on tv. As my Grandpa’s health got worst, his comfort was watching and quoting his favorite Actor Mr. Garner. Here’s to my favorite memories, Rest In Peace Grandpa and James Garner.