James Garner, an actor who managed to make a name for himself in both TV and movies through countless comedies and dramas, has died. He was 86 and reportedly died from natural causes at his home in Los Angeles.
One of the truest marks of an impactful actor is when it’s hard to pinpoint what, exactly, they’re most famous for. Though he had a handful of notable parts before it—including a starring role in Darby’s Rangers that he reportedly got after original star Charlton Heston walked off—Garner first made his real mark with the ABC western Maverick in 1957. He played Bret Maverick, a wry card shark who would rarely go out of his way to risk his life but would still always stick up for what was right.
Garner left Maverick after its third season due to a contract dispute and moved onto bigger Hollywood projects, including The Great Escape, The Children’s Hour, Boys’ Night Out, The Americanization Of Emily, and Marlowe, in which he played Raymond Chandler’s famous private detective. In 1974, though, Garner returned to TV for another iconic starring role, that of Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. The show was seen as a slight rehash of Maverick, with Garner even breaking genre convention again by playing Rockford as a slightly reluctant detective who didn’t dress fancy or get into shootouts with any regularity, but the show still proved very successful for NBC and ran for six seasons.
Garner had to leave The Rockford Files under the advice of his doctors, who were worried about injuries that he had sustained while doing his own stunts. He returned to the character for a number of TV movies—as well as that of Bret Maverick for a short-lived series of his own—but his career began to slow down for almost the first time ever in the ‘80s. Despite that, though, he still starred with Sally Field in Murphy’s Romance and appeared with Jack Lemmon as a former president in My Fellow Americans, proving that he still held a considerable amount of star power.
In 2000, Garner played an aging astronaut in Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys and even took on the role of God in the animated sitcom God, The Devil, And Bob. Even after all of that previous success, though, Garner will almost certainly be best recognized by a certain audience as the older version of Ryan Gosling’s character in The Notebook.
In 2005, Garner was given the Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievement Award, and he also won an Emmy back in 1977 for his work on The Rockford Files.