James Garner, the understated, wisecracking everyman actor who enjoyed multi-generational success on both the small and big screen, has died. He was 86.
Police, who were called to his residence Saturday night in Los Angeles, say he died of natural causes.
Garner starred in hit TV series almost 20 years apart — “Maverick” in the late 1950s and “The Rockford Files” in the 1970s. He also had a notable film career, starring in such classics as “Sayonara” (1957), “The Great Escape” (1963), “The Americanization of Emily” (1964), “Grand Prix” (1966) and “Victor/Victoria” (1982), as well as the TV movies “My Name Is Bill W.” (1989) and “Barbarians at the Gate” (1993). More recent films included “Space Cowboys” (2000) and “The Notebook” (2004).
He was fiercely independent, challenging the studios on both “Maverick” and “Rockford” when he felt he wasn’t being treated fairly. He sued studios twice and won both times.
“The industry is like it always has been. It’s a bunch of greedy people,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1990.
He was a valued and convincing pitchman — in his 1970s and ’80s commercials for Polaroid cameras he had such good rapport with co-star Mariette Hartley that viewers were convinced they were married — and was nominated for a slew of awards, including Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG Awards and an Oscar (for 1986’s “Murphy’s Romance”). His performance in “The Rockford Files” won him an Emmy.
He could do serious. His performance in the TV movie “My Name Is Bill W.” — about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous — was straightforward and uncompromising. He could also show real heartbreak, whether it was cradling fellow escapee Donald Pleasance in “The Great Escape” or talking with Gena Rowlands in “The Notebook.”
But he was rarely one to blow his own horn.
“I got into the business to put a roof over my head,” he once said. “I wasn’t looking for star status. I just wanted to keep working.”