LOS ANGELES, July 20, 2014 — The lights have been turned off and the answering machine has been disconnected. Jim Rockford has left the building for the last time. At the age of 86, actor James Garner has departed.
Garner’s career spanned over half a century, with his biggest early success coming as the Western legend Bret Maverick.
He seamlessly transitioned to the small screen as the lead character in the wildly successful “Rockford Files.” Each episode would start with somebody leaving an amusing answering machine message, such as one about a child’s birthday party where the person asks, “Did you order the pink lady?” After the message came one of the greatest television theme songs of all time.
Garner won the Emmy Award for Best Actor in 1977. Another unusual tribute came in a cartoon series based on the show. The only difference was that “The Buford Files” lead character was a dog, and a rather lazy one at that. “Here comes help, here comes action, here comes Buford,” would be followed by the dog falling asleep on the floor in the middle of the case. Rockford’s private investigator was more diligent.
Garner had such widespread appeal because he was a rare breed. Long before metrosexuals roamed the earth, alpha-males existed. Garner was tough enough for the men but charming enough for the ladies. He was the epitome of a man’s man. He drank, smoked, ate red meat and loved football and fast cars. He served in the military. He was a “guy.”
He did more than merely join the Army, receiving two purple hearts while serving in Korea.
He did more than just eat red meat. He promoted it, telling Americans “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” Comedian Dennis Leary joked that after Garner had a couple of heart attacks, maybe he was not the best spokesman for red meat.
Even after having quintuple bypass surgery in 1988, he continued smoking for another 17 years.
His love of football had him as a frequent sideline guest of his beloved Raiders. Garner was dressed in black, fitting in perfectly with the Raider Nation. When the 1983 Raiders made the Super Bowl, an excited Garner was heard yelling after the first Raiders touchdown “that’s one!” Always the tough guy, he helped security keep unwanted pests away from the Raiders locker room.
He drove the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 three times.
He stayed married to the same woman for 58 years. Always the sharp wit, Garner said that “Marriage is like the Army; everyone complains, but you’d be surprised at the large number of people who re-enlist.”
For bringing so much joy to so many people on screen and off, 86 years was not enough time for the world to enjoy this man. He will be missed.
When the rest of us get to heaven, we will finally be able to hear the hilarious messages now being left on his answering machine, and how he returns those calls.