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Arts and Entertainment

James Garner, 'Maverick' And 'Rockford Files' Actor, Dies At 86

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James Garner, best known for starring in 'Maverick' and 'The Rockford Files.' (Photo by L. J. Willinger/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
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James Garner, the star of film and television best known from his lead roles in the series Maverick and The Rockford Files, was found dead yesterday in his Brentwood home. He was 86.The everyman who happened to be a leading man, Garner had suffered a stroke in 2008 and underwent quintuple bypass surgery in 1988, though the cause of death has yet to be determined according to the LA Times.

Born James Scott Bumgarner on April 7, 1928 in Norman, Oklahoma, Garner left home at the age of 14 after a violent episode with his abusive stepmother and wound up in Los Angeles, where his father would eventually settle as well. He briefly attended Hollywood High School, but would eventually return to Norman. He never graduated high school. In 1950, he was drafted into the Korean War and would receive two Purple Hearts for his service.

Upon returning to Los Angeles after the war, Garner, now 25, was working as a carpet layer when he recognized the name of an old associate from Hollywood High School on the sign of a talent agency on La Cienega Boulevard. A car had just pulled out from a parking spot in front of Paul Gregory & Associates, when he decided to pull in and his old friend Paul Gregory cast him in his first stage role that launched his acting career of over 50 years. Acting alongside Henry Fonda in a touring production of Caine Mutiny Court-Martial that would wind up on Broadway, Garner had a nonspeaking role.

"The only reason I'm an actor is that a lady pulled out of a parking space in front of a producer's office," he would later write in his autobiography, according to the NY Times.

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His early career in film and television was kick-started when he landed a small role on the TV western Cheyenne and wound up with Warner Brothers, where he would appear in various movie roles including alongside Marlon Brando in 1957's Sayonara. Around that same time, he would land the titular role on ABC's western series Maverick, which would make him a household name.

James Garner and Clint Eastwood go man-on-man in the 'Maverick' episode 'Duel At Sundown'

Bret Maverick wasn't the typical western hero: more a womanizing, slick hustler and cardsharp than the gruff gunslinger. Although the series was a success for Garner, he would leave after three years over a contract dispute. He continued to work in movies, including The Great Escape and The Americanization Of Emily, which he considered his favorite of his own movies.

Garner's famous speech from 'The Americanization Of Emily'

In 1974, Garner would return to star in television, with The Rockford Files, where he played a rough and tumble private investigator living out of a trailer in Malibu. Garner would win an Emmy for his role in 1977. The show would come to an abrupt end in 1980 because the production was far too physically demanding on Garner.

'The Rockford Files'

Garner also served as a pitchman for many brands, most famously for Polaroid Cameras alongside Mariette Hartley, where the duo portrayed a married couple. The humorous ads were so well known that Hartley had a shirt made that said "I am NOT Mrs. James Garner."

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His acting career would continue on until very late into his life, with his only Oscar nomination coming rom 1985's Murphy's Romance, a romantic comedy he starred in opposite of Sally Field. For Millennials, he may be most recognizable from his role on the TV sitcom 8 Simple Rules (which he joined after the death of series star John Ritter) and as the elderly version of Ryan Gosling in The Notebook.

James Garner and Gena Rowlands in 'The Notebook'

For his lengthy career, Garner was inducted into both the Western Performers Hall of Fame and the Television Hall Of Fame in 1990, and would receive a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Garner is survived by his wife of almost 58 years, Lois Clarke, whom the lifetime Democrat claims he met at an Adlai Stevenson campaign rally in 1956, their daughter Greta and Garner's stepdaughter Kim.