Sad news to report today, via TMZ – actor James Garner has died. Paramedics were called to Garner’s Los Angeles home last night, and arrived to find that he’d died of natural causes. He was 86.
Many of you will know Garner as the older version of Ryan Gosling’s Noah Calhoun in “The Notebook,” but what you may not know is that his earlier work made that casting decision wholly appropriate – his performances as Jim Rockford in the 1970s detective drama “The Rockford Files” and Bret Maverick in the 1950s western series “Maverick” were dripping with the kind of charm and charisma that Gosling could only dream of. Garner transitioned seamlessly between television and film, embodying almost one hundred different characters in his lifetime, including starring roles in “The Great Escape,” “Victor Victoria” and “Murphy’s Romance” – the latter of which earned him an Academy Award nomination.
Garner was born James Scott Baumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma in 1928. He joined the United States Merchant Marine at age sixteen during World War II, then moved to Los Angeles where his rugged good looks (and former experience on the water, perhaps?) earned him a bathing suit modeling contract.
He went on to fight in the Korean War as a member of the National Guard, and was awarded a Purple Heart. He called upon his military experience later in “The Great Escape” while playing Hendley, who held a similar position (called a “scrounger”) as a soldier.
After acting in a few small roles, Garner’s first big break came in “Maverick” (that’d be the original 1950s TV series that inspired Mel Gibson’s 1994 big screen adaptation of the same name – though Garner did have a pivotal role in that film). After three years in the title role, he moved on to replace Charlton Heston in “Darby’s Rangers” and officially solidified himself as a favorite on both the big and small screen.
Much of his film work is attributed to the 1960s, when he starred alongside Steve McQueen in “The Americanization of Emily,” Audrey Hepburn in “The Children’s Hour,” Shirley MacLaine in “Boys’ Night Out” and even played infamous frontier lawman Wyatt Earp in “Hour of the Gun.” But his career-defining role came in the 1970s, as private investigator Jim Rockford in “The Rockford Files.” He earned an Emmy award for the part.
Garner continued to work steadily through the 80s and 90s, and even re-teamed with his “Maverick” colleague Clint Eastwood in the 2000 film “Space Cowboys,” then made us all cry as Noah “Duke” Calhoun in “The Notebook,” and charmed us as Cate’s (Katey Sagal) father in the TV series “8 Simple Rules.” In 2005 he received the Screen Actors Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Garner is survived by his wife Lois, who he married in 1956, his stepdaughter Kim, and their daughter Greta. Our deepest condolences to Garner’s family and colleagues.