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Movie, TV legend James Garner dies

2014-07-20 15:22

Los Angeles - Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western Maverick led to a stellar career in TV and films such as The Rockford Files and his Oscar-nominated Murphy's Romance, has died, police said. He was 86.

He was found dead of natural causes at his home in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles Saturday evening, Los Angeles police officer Alonzo Iniquez said early on Sunday.

Police responded to a call around 20:00 PDT and confirmed Garner's identity from family members, Iniquez told The Associated Press.

There was no immediate word on a more specific cause of death. Garner had suffered a stroke in May 2008, just weeks after his 80th birthday.

Although he was adept at drama and action, Garner was best known for his low-key, wisecracking style, especially with his hit TV series, Maverick and The Rockford Files.

His quick-witted avoidance of conflict provided a refreshingly new take on the American hero, contrasting with the steely heroics of John Wayne and the fast trigger of Clint Eastwood.

Well into his 70s, the handsome Oklahoman remained active in both TV and film. In 2002, he was Sandra Bullock's father in the film Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The following year, he joined the cast of 8 Simple Rules ... For Dating My Teenage Daughter, playing the grandfather on the sitcom after star John Ritter, who played the father, died during the show's second season.

When he received the Screen Actors Guild's lifetime achievement award in 2005, he quipped, "I'm not at all sure how I got here."

But in his 2011 memoir, The Garner Files, he provided some amusing and enlightening clues, including his penchant for bluntly expressed opinions and a practice for decking people who said something nasty to his face - including an obnoxious fan and an abusive stepmother. They all deserved it, Garner declared in his book.

It was in 1957 when the ABC network, desperate to compete on ratings-rich Sunday night, scheduled Maverick against CBS's powerhouse The Ed Sullivan Show and NBC's The Steve Allen Show. Maverick soon outpolled them both.

At a time when the networks were crowded with hard-eyed, traditional Western heroes, Bret Maverick provided a fresh breath of air. With his sardonic tone and his eagerness to talk his way out of a squabble rather than pull out his six-shooter, the con-artist Westerner seemed to scoff at the genre's values.

After a couple of years, Garner felt the series was losing its creative edge, and he found a legal loophole to escape his contract in 1960.

His first film after Maverick established him as a movie actor. It was The Children's Hour, William Wyler's remake of Lillian Hellman's lesbian drama that co-starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.

He followed in a successful comedy with Kim Novak, Boys Night Out, and then fully established his box-office appeal with the 1963 blockbuster war drama The Great Escape and two smash comedies with Doris Day - The Thrill of It All and Move Over Darling.

Throughout his long film career, Garner demonstrated his versatility in comedies, suspense and Westerns.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when most stars his age were considered over the hill, Garner's career remained strong.

Read more on:    celebrity deaths  |  celebrities

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