Maverick, The Rockford Files: James Garner Dies at 86

James Garner RIPTelevision legend James Garner has died at the age of 86. He reportedly passed away late last night.

Garner began his career with a non-speaking role in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial on Broadway after helping actor Lloyd Nolan learn his lines. He then landed a regular role in the touring production.

From there, he moved on to small roles in movies and television. While he found success starring in more than 50 films over the course of his career — including The Thrill of It All, The Americanization of Emily, Victor/Victoria, Murphy’s Romance, Support Your Local Sheriff!, and The Notebook — Garner really made his mark on the small screen.

He starred in a comedic Western, Maverick, in 1957 on ABC. Garner’s Bret Maverick character sought out high-stakes poker games and rarely stayed in one place for very long. Unlike traditional Western heroes, Maverick was lazy, slow on the draw, and often reluctant to risk his own life for others — possibly the first anti-hero on television. He typically ended up being courageous in spite of himself and, aside from flimflamming those who deserved it, Maverick was honest to a fault.

After seven episodes, Bret’s adventures alternated each week with those of his brother Bart (Jack Kelly). According to series creator Roy Huggins, this was done because episodes took more than a week to film and this allowed two episodes to be shot with different casts and crews at the same time. Garner quit the series after three seasons due to a financial dispute with the studio. He was replaced by Roger Moore and then by Robert Colbert but the ratings were never the same.

In the 1970s, Huggins wanted to remake Maverick as a modern-day detective and The Rockford Files was born. Huggins teamed with Stephen J. Cannell and Garner was hired to play private investigator Jim Rockford. Like his Western predecessor, Rockford was lazy and reluctant to risk his own neck but he’d always end up doing the right thing anyway.

Garner won an Emmy Award in 1977 for the series and starred in The Rockford Files for six seasons. He ended the show due to the physical toll the role had taken on his body.

A new Bret Maverick series was mounted in 1981 but it was cancelled by NBC after one season. Garner played Marshal Zane Cooper in the 1994 movie version of Maverick with Mel Gibson playing the title role. As a nod to Garner’s original role, it’s revealed in the end of the picture that Cooper is Maverick’s father.

Garner reprised his role as Jim Rockford in eight Rockford Files TV movies, from 1994 until 1999. There had been plans for Rockford to appear in an episode of Cannell’s Magnum, PI in the 1980s but, due to a dispute between Garner and Universal Studios, it never happened.

Garner is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Lois Clarke, a TV actress. She had a daughter Kimberly from a previous marriage, and the Garners had another daughter together, Gretta Scott.

What do you think? Have you enjoyed Garner’s work? Do you have any favorite performances?

Canceled and renewed TV show

14 Comments · Read them below or add one

  1. Charle says

    I always enjoyed how Garner was able to take the ‘every day guy’ into intense situations and manage to be heroic in spite of his own fear. But then that always ends up to be true of almost all heroic people.

  2. Anonymous says

    An actor who could do comedy or drama with equal effect-my favourite film of his was ’36 Hours’.

  3. Barbara says

    I watch and LOVED everything he did. What a really great actor and AMERICAN he was. My sincere wishes to his family for peace and many GREAT memories. Barbara

  4. says

    James Garner is the first celebrity whose passing has nearly moved me to tears. I watched The Rockford Files while I was growing up, and it was before VCRs, so I had to be home, in front of the TV every week to see it. I haven’t seen everything he’s done, but I do love his work in the “Support Your Local …” movies and with Doris Day, among others. More importantly, from what I’ve heard, he was a nice, stand-up guy in real life, too.

    “This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I’ll get back to you.”

    Goodbye, Jim. All my best.

    • says

      Yes, that says it for me too. I am so sad. I loved James Garner, I always wished his Rockford Files could have been way more than they were. Good-bye Jimmy. I loved the answering machine too lol. I heard he was a real nice guy too. His wife was a lucky woman.


  5. Jane jennis says

    My sincerest condolences to the family of our beloved James Garner…………..always my hero ………..great actor……..great entertainer …………

  6. says

    So sad to hear this news. James Garner was my favourite movie and television star for so many years. His good looks, his wit, his charm were, and still are, unforgettable. My thoughts , and heartfelt condolences, go out to his wife and others in his family. May you rest in peace my Maverick..thank you for so much pleasure.

  7. Bill Cord says

    James Garner was a great actor who made everything he appeared in better. Still watch Maverick every day and have him as a saved person in my DVR to record any movie or TV show with Garner that is shown on Direct TV.

    Wish someone would put the Rockford Files back on TV.

  8. Bethany says

    This is so sad that James Garner died. I had no idea he died until now. I loved the movie The Notebook he was in. I also loved that he played the Grandfather in 50 Rules for my Teenage Daughter after John Ritter died on the show. He was great as the grandfather. I will miss him. He was a great actor.

  9. Lance says

    So sad to here the news. I grew up watching Maverick and the Rockford Files. One of the greats. Loved Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter movies also, I can’t think of anything I ever watched him in that I didn’t like.


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