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Great Escape actor dead

Los Angeles, July 20 (Reuters): Actor James Garner, best known for his prime-time television roles as the wisecracking frontier gambler on Maverick and as an ex-con turned private eye on The Rockford Files, has died at age 86, Los Angeles police confirmed early on Sunday.

Garner, who built a six-decade career playing ruggedly charming, good-natured anti-heroes and received the highest honour of the Screen Actors Guild in 2004, was found dead from natural causes yesterday night at his Los Angeles home, according to the police.

Garner, an Oklahoma native, entered show business in the 1950s after serving in the Korean War and first rose to fame on the TV western Maverick, a sardonic alternative to the more serious frontier shows then popular on American prime time.

He was Bret Maverick, a cardsharp and ladies man who got by on his wits instead of a six-gun and would just as soon duck a fight as face a showdown. Co-star Jack Kelly played his more straight-laced brother, Bart.

Garner left the ABC show in 1960 in a contract dispute with producers but brought his Maverick-like alter ego to a series of films, including Thrill of It All; Move Over, Darling; The Great Escape and Support Your Local Sheriff!

Garner once said his screen persona as an easy-going guy smart enough to steer clear of a fight actually ran only so deep.

“At times it’s like me, but I used to have this temper,” he told Reuters in a 2004 interview. “I used to get in a fight in a heartbeat. But that was many years ago.”

With his wry, low-key presence, good looks and thick dark hair, Garner was hailed by some as a great Hollywood leading man in the making.

But he ended up scoring his next big hit on the small screen in the 1970s, starring as canny private detective Jim Rockford, a wrongly accused ex-convict starting life over in a beachfront trailer home, on The Rockford Files.

The show ran on NBC from 1974 until Garner abruptly quit the series in 1980. He reprised Rockford for several TV movies in the late 1990s.

The role earned Garner an Emmy Award in 1977. He also received an Oscar nomination for his work opposite Sally Field in the 1985 feature comedy Murphy’s Romance.

Garner said his favourite role was as the cowardly US soldier who falls for Julie Andrews before being sent on a dangerous wartime mission in the 1964 film The Americanization of Emily.

 
 
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