Sunday, July 20, 2014

James Garner, RIP

With last night's word of the passing of actor James Garner at age 86, another legend has left us. By all accounts as genial and good natured in person as he was on-screen, Garner enjoyed an acting career that spanned over fifty years, including a second-billed turn in one of my all-time favorite films, 1963's The Great Escape. But I'm willing to wager he's most fondly remembered by global auds for his time playing the title characters of two classic television series: Maverick and The Rockford Files. Whether you're talking about gamblin' cowboy Bret Maverick or disheveled PI Jim Rockford, both summed up the ineffable appeal of the laconic Garner, who managed to couple the burly physique and chiseled looks of a matinee idol with the laid-back approachability of an everyman.

Garner would reprise both of his most iconic characters several times, the former via TV revivals and a supporting turn in the 1994 feature film, starring Mel Gibson, and the latter via eight Rockford telefilms that aired on NBC throughout the '90s. In the 2000s, Garner, by then one of Hollywood's most respected elder statesmen, notched a stint on the early-aughts sitcom 8 Simple Rules after star John Ritter unexpectedly suffered a heart attack, and, in perhaps his most memorable late career role, played the older version of Ryan Gosling's character in 2004's The Notebook. After suffering a stroke in 2008, the actor's output understandably slowed, with his final credit a voice performance as the wizard "Shazam" in a DC Universe animated short in 2010, but by then he'd long since cemented his legacy as one of the greatest stars of a bygone era.

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