Tall and handsome, Garner had the leading man looks that led to roles in big screen dramas ranging from 1958's
"I'm a Spencer Tracy-type actor," Garner once said. "His idea was to be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth. Most every actor tries to make it something it isn't [or] looks for the easy way out. I don't think acting is that difficult if you can put yourself aside and do what the writer wrote."
Garner's acting career began in 1954 with a non-speaking role in the Broadway play "The
Asked if he would ever do a nude scene, he quipped; "I don't do horror films."
Garner gained widespread popularity in 1957 starring as the wise cracking riverboat gambler in the comedy/western Maverick. But Garner left after three years in a dispute over money.
Twenty years later, he won an Emmy for perhaps the role that gave him his most visibility — as James Rockford, the laid back, beach-dwelling private detective of NBC's Rockford Files, which ran from 1974 to 1980.
Garner, who did many of his own stunts, ultimately pulled the plug on the show because of the high physical toll on his knees and neck. But the show — and his iconic character — proved so popular that eight Rockford Files TV movies followed.
Garner continued to alternate between film and TV roles. He earned an Oscar nomination for his role in
Garner, born James Scott Baumgarner in Norman, Okla., was the son of a carpet layer. His mother, who was part
Garner married Lois Clarke two weeks after they met in 1956. They remained together until his death.
"Marriage is like the Army; everyone complains," he once said. "But you'd be surprised at the large number of people who re-enlist."
Daughter Greta Garner-Hewitt is the author of "The Cop Cookbook: Arresting Recipes from the World's Favorite Cops, Good Guys, and
Garner also had success as a
Despite his star status, Garner was never enamored with being in Hollywood's limelight. "I got into the business to put a roof over my head," he said. "I wasn't looking for star status. I just wanted to keep working."