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TV legend James Garner, reluctant hero, dies at 86

  • FILE - Actor James Garner, left, smiles as he holds up the Purple Heart medal presented to him in a ceremony in this Monday, Jan. 24, 1983 file photo taken Los Angeles, Calif. Garner was wounded in April 1951 while with U.S. Forces in Korea, but his medal was never presented to him. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon, File)

    FILE - Actor James Garner, left, smiles as he holds up the Purple Heart medal presented to him in a ceremony in this Monday, Jan. 24, 1983 file photo taken Los Angeles, Calif. Garner was wounded in April 1951 while with U.S. Forces in Korea, but his medal was never presented to him. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon, File)

  • FILE - From Left: James Garner, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Clint Eastwood pose for Warner Brothers Pictures' "Space Cowboys" in this July 2000 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/ Warner Brothers, File)

    FILE - From Left: James Garner, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Clint Eastwood pose for Warner Brothers Pictures' "Space Cowboys" in this July 2000 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/ Warner Brothers, File)

  • In this photo provided by James Kastner, a tour bus caught fire on a busy stretch of New Jersey highway, but no passengers were injured in Bridgewater, N.J., Saturday, July 19, 2014. State Police Sgt. Brian Polite says the fire was reported at about 8:40 p.m. Initial reports say passengers were seen running along the southbound lanes of Interstate 287, away from the blaze. There's no word yet on what caused the fire. (AP Photo/Jimmy Kastner) MANDATORY CREDIT

    In this photo provided by James Kastner, a tour bus caught fire on a busy stretch of New Jersey highway, but no passengers were injured in Bridgewater, N.J., Saturday, July 19, 2014. State Police Sgt. Brian Polite says the fire was reported at about 8:40 p.m. Initial reports say passengers were seen running along the southbound lanes of Interstate 287, away from the blaze. There's no word yet on what caused the fire. (AP Photo/Jimmy Kastner) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • James Garner, who will accept the 41st annual life achievement award, arrives with his family including his wife Lois Clarke, far left, for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

    James Garner, who will accept the 41st annual life achievement award, arrives with his family including his wife Lois Clarke, far left, for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

  • FILE - In a May 30, 2014 file photo, Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr speaks with reporters after addressing the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island, Mich. In the little more than a year since Orr made Detroit the largest U.S. city to seek bankruptcy protection, it has experienced a wide range of improvements that will factor into Judge Steven Rhodes' decisions during next month's bankruptcy trial. A major piece of the bankruptcy puzzle could fall into place Monday, July 21, 2014, with the expected release of the results of a vote by creditors, including more than 30,000 retired and current city workers, on whether to accept millions of dollars in cuts. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File)

    FILE - In a May 30, 2014 file photo, Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr speaks with reporters after addressing the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island, Mich. In the little more than a year since Orr made Detroit the largest U.S. city to seek bankruptcy protection, it has experienced a wide range of improvements that will factor into Judge Steven Rhodes' decisions during next month's bankruptcy trial. A major piece of the bankruptcy puzzle could fall into place Monday, July 21, 2014, with the expected release of the results of a vote by creditors, including more than 30,000 retired and current city workers, on whether to accept millions of dollars in cuts. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File)

  • FILE - Jim Garner of the TV program ?Maverick? arrives with his wife Lois Clarke at the Emmy Awards, in this April 15, 1958 file photo taken in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Calif. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/File)

    FILE - Jim Garner of the TV program ?Maverick? arrives with his wife Lois Clarke at the Emmy Awards, in this April 15, 1958 file photo taken in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Calif. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/File)

  • FILE - James Garner holds the 41st annual life achievement award backstage at the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

    FILE - James Garner holds the 41st annual life achievement award backstage at the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

  • FILE - James Garner as Australia- bound Jason McCullough rides into gold-rush boom town of Calendar in this April 1968 file photo taken at MGM Studios. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86.(AP Photo/File)

    FILE - James Garner as Australia- bound Jason McCullough rides into gold-rush boom town of Calendar in this April 1968 file photo taken at MGM Studios. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86.(AP Photo/File)

  • FILE - James Garner (left) plays a scene for MGM's "Grand Prix," which has cars racing through the streets of Monte Carlo in this June 14, 1966 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/File)

    FILE - James Garner (left) plays a scene for MGM's "Grand Prix," which has cars racing through the streets of Monte Carlo in this June 14, 1966 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/File)

  • FILE - Actor James Garner, right, and his wife Lois are shown in the Trans World Flight Center prior to boarding a TWA Jetliner enroute to London  in this Feb. 21, 1964 file photo taken in New York. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/MGM, File) NO SALES

    FILE - Actor James Garner, right, and his wife Lois are shown in the Trans World Flight Center prior to boarding a TWA Jetliner enroute to London in this Feb. 21, 1964 file photo taken in New York. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/MGM, File) NO SALES

  • FILE - Actor James Garner is shown in character as "Bret Maverick" on the set of his television show, in this April 13, 1982 file photo taken in Los Angeles, Calif. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File)

    FILE - Actor James Garner is shown in character as "Bret Maverick" on the set of his television show, in this April 13, 1982 file photo taken in Los Angeles, Calif. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File)

  • FILE - In this Feb.  5, 2005 file photo, James Garner, arrives for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

    FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2005 file photo, James Garner, arrives for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

  • FILE - Actor James Garner is pictured during an interview in Norman, Okla., Garner's hometown, in this Friday, April 21, 2006 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo)

    FILE - Actor James Garner is pictured during an interview in Norman, Okla., Garner's hometown, in this Friday, April 21, 2006 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo)

  • FILE - Actor James Garner, left, smiles as he holds up the Purple Heart medal presented to him in a ceremony in this Monday, Jan. 24, 1983 file photo taken Los Angeles, Calif. Garner was wounded in April 1951 while with U.S. Forces in Korea, but his medal was never presented to him. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon, File)
  • FILE - From Left: James Garner, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Clint Eastwood pose for Warner Brothers Pictures' "Space Cowboys" in this July 2000 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/ Warner Brothers, File)
  • In this photo provided by James Kastner, a tour bus caught fire on a busy stretch of New Jersey highway, but no passengers were injured in Bridgewater, N.J., Saturday, July 19, 2014. State Police Sgt. Brian Polite says the fire was reported at about 8:40 p.m. Initial reports say passengers were seen running along the southbound lanes of Interstate 287, away from the blaze. There's no word yet on what caused the fire. (AP Photo/Jimmy Kastner) MANDATORY CREDIT
  • James Garner, who will accept the 41st annual life achievement award, arrives with his family including his wife Lois Clarke, far left, for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
  • FILE - In a May 30, 2014 file photo, Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr speaks with reporters after addressing the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island, Mich. In the little more than a year since Orr made Detroit the largest U.S. city to seek bankruptcy protection, it has experienced a wide range of improvements that will factor into Judge Steven Rhodes' decisions during next month's bankruptcy trial. A major piece of the bankruptcy puzzle could fall into place Monday, July 21, 2014, with the expected release of the results of a vote by creditors, including more than 30,000 retired and current city workers, on whether to accept millions of dollars in cuts. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File)
  • FILE - Jim Garner of the TV program ?Maverick? arrives with his wife Lois Clarke at the Emmy Awards, in this April 15, 1958 file photo taken in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Calif. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/File)
  • FILE - James Garner holds the 41st annual life achievement award backstage at the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
  • FILE - James Garner as Australia- bound Jason McCullough rides into gold-rush boom town of Calendar in this April 1968 file photo taken at MGM Studios. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86.(AP Photo/File)
  • FILE - James Garner (left) plays a scene for MGM's "Grand Prix," which has cars racing through the streets of Monte Carlo in this June 14, 1966 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/File)
  • FILE - Actor James Garner, right, and his wife Lois are shown in the Trans World Flight Center prior to boarding a TWA Jetliner enroute to London  in this Feb. 21, 1964 file photo taken in New York. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/MGM, File) NO SALES
  • FILE - Actor James Garner is shown in character as "Bret Maverick" on the set of his television show, in this April 13, 1982 file photo taken in Los Angeles, Calif. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File)
  • FILE - In this Feb.  5, 2005 file photo, James Garner, arrives for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
  • FILE - Actor James Garner is pictured during an interview in Norman, Okla., Garner's hometown, in this Friday, April 21, 2006 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo)

Few actors could register disbelief, exasperation or annoyance with more comic subtlety.

James Garner had a way of widening his eyes while the corner of his mouth sagged ever so slightly. Maybe he would swallow once to further make his point.

This portrait of fleeting disquiet could be understood, and identified with, by every member of the audience. Never mind Garner was tall, brawny and, well, movie-star handsome. The persona he perfected was never less than manly, good with his dukes and charming to the ladies, but his heroics were kept human-scale thanks to his gift for the comic turn. He remained one of the people.

He burst on the scene with this disarming style in the 1950s TV Western Maverick, which led to a stellar career in TV and films such as The Rockford Files and his Oscar-nominated Murphy’s Romance.

The 86-year-old Garner, who was found dead of natural causes at his Los Angeles home Saturday, was adept at drama and action. But he was best known for his low-key, wisecracking style, especially on his hit TV series, Maverick and The Rockford Files.

His quick-witted avoidance of conflict offered a refreshing new take on the American hero, contrasting with the blunt toughness of John Wayne and the laconic trigger-happiness of Clint Eastwood.

There’s no better display of Garner’s everyman majesty than the NBC series The Rockford Files (1974-80). He played an L.A. private eye and wrongly jailed ex-con who seemed to rarely get paid, or even get thanks, for the cases he took, while helplessly getting drawn into trouble to help someone who was neither a client nor maybe even a friend. He lived in a trailer with an answering machine that, in the show’s opening titles, always took a message that had nothing to do with a paying job, but more often was a complaining call from a cranky creditor.

Through it all, Jim Rockford, however down on his luck, persevered hopefully. He wore the veneer of a cynic, but led with his heart. Putting all that on screen was Garner’s magic.

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 – and helping ground it with his reassuring presence – after star John Ritter, who played the father, died during the show’s second season.

He even scored in commercials. During the late 1970s, he was paired with actress Mariette Hartley in a popular series of ads for Polaroid cameras. Their on-screen banter felt so authentic that many viewers mistakenly believed they were husband and wife.

When Garner 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.

And when he suspected his studio of cheating him on residual payments – a not-unheard-of condition in Hollywood – Garner spoke out loudly and fought back with lawsuits.

They all deserved it, Garner declared in his book.

James Garner was a wonderful actor and well loved by many....we still watch The Rockford Files reruns....good clean TV.....rest in peace Jim

R.I.P. " Rockford Files Intro " at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C8EUrtEhfM for the 1-minute introduction seen 685,251 times. I also like the one with Stuart Margolin as "Angel" entitled: " Rockford Files: Angels keeps his mouth shut!" over at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNjv35DfSo4#t=40 of 1:19 minute seen 62,116 times, with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gretchen_Corbett as "Beth Davenport".

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