James Garner, star of Rockford Files, dead at 86

James Garner has died, aged 86.
James Garner has died, aged 86.

HOLLYWOOD is mourning the loss of James Garner, a legendary actor known for playing sardonic but likeable characters on both television and the big screen.

Garner, who early in his career had been pegged by some in the industry as the next Cary Grant or Clark Gable, had worked into his late seventies, but had been in poor health since having surgery after a stroke in May 2008, a few weeks after his 80th birthday.

Police officials in the Brentwood neighbourhood of Los Angeles confirmed on Sunday that they had responded to an emergency call on Saturday evening to the actor's home and that Garner had been found dead apparently from natural causes. No further details were given.

Just as he was understated in many of his roles, so his career was never studded with Oscars or other public plaudits. In 2005, Garner did, however, receive a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild, and at the ceremony he quipped, "I'm not at all sure how I got here."

His only Oscar nomination was for his role opposite Sally Fields in the 1985 comedy Murphy's Romance.

In America, he may be best remembered for his lead role in the 1950s TV Western series Maverick, in which he played a frontier gambler and womaniser who eschewed his gun and holster, preferring to duck confrontation whenever possible.

Equally successful was The Rockford Files which earned him an Emmy.

Launched on NBC TV in 1974 the series again showcased Garner's talent as the anti-hero, playing a wrongfully convicted ex-prisoner who after his release had begun his own private detective agency from inside his tatty caravan home.

"I have long thought that Jim Garner was one of the best actors around," the director Robert Altman, who had directed him in one of his own films, Health, told Esquire magazine in 1979.

"He is often overlooked because he makes it look so easy, and that is not easy to do. I don't know anyone in the business with his charm and charisma who can act so well."

His films included Grand Prix (1966), seen by some as the best racing movie of all time, The Great Escape (1963), which saw him starring alongside his friend Steve McQueen, and Victor/Victoria with Julie Andrews (1982).