James Garner was one of the coolest guys to ever be featured on the big and small screens. On TV, he played iconic characters such as the witty card player Maverick and the beach-dwelling Pontiac Firebird-driving sleuth Jim Rockford. At the movies, Garner appeared in more than 50 theatrical films, including 1953s The Great Escape, 1963s The Wheeler Dealers, and 1969s Support Your Local Sheriff.
Later in Garner’s career, he continued to enjoy popularity well into the 21st century. In 2000, he shared the screen with Clint Eastwood in Space Cowboys. The following year his voice was featured in the Disney Animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire. In 2004, he joined Gena Rowlands and Ryan Gosling onscreen in the classic romantic drama The Notebook. And from 2003 to 2005, he played the character Jim Egan in the sitcom 8 Simple rule.
The man behind all of the characters that he played on screen was every bit as fascinating. Garner was known for being charismatic and hard-working. Generally speaking, those that worked with him in show business had glowing things to say about him. And unlike most other Hollywood leading men, Garner remained married to his one and only wife, Lois Clarke, whom he exchanged wedding vows with in 1956, right up until his death in 2014.
Sadly injuries that he sustained throughout his acting career, coupled with a stroke that he had later on in life, drastically impeded Garner’s ability to continue working as much as he had at the peak of his career in the mid to late 20th century. Join Facts Verse as we address how James Garner was never quite the same after suffering a string of injuries that nearly put an abrupt end to his once seemingly unstoppable acting career.
Critically Acclaimed For Good Reason
Born in the Spring of 1928, James was an actor and producer whose career spanned more than half a century. He scored his first role in show business in the mid-1950s in the television western series Cheyenne.
He went on to appear in many more television series and films, including Sayonara, Conflict, and Maverick – the later of which saw him portraying the show’s central character, Bret Maverick.
Decades later, in 1981, another series titled Bret Maverick ran for a single year. That show saw Garner reprise his role from the first Maverick series and resulted in him being nominated for a Primetime Emmy as well as a Golden Globe.
Garner became a household name after appearing in Maverick in the 1960s. Because of this, he went on to continue landing significant roles in television programs like Nichols and later The Rockford Files.
It was all thanks to his stellar performance in the Rockford Files as the titular lead Jim Rockford that Garner received three Golden Globe nods and an additional five Primetime Emmy Award nominations. In 1977, James ended up winning one of those Emmys.
The only time that Garner was nominated for an Academy Award was in 1986 after portraying Murphy Jones in Murphy’s Romance. That offering saw him sharing the screen with Sally Field.
James’ Romance With Lois Clarke
On August 17, 1956, James married the love of his life, Lois Clarke, just two weeks after meeting her for the first time. Garner would later say that when he first saw Clarke it was ‘love at first sight’. The two shared that magical first chance encounter at the “Adlai Stevenson for President” Rally which was held on the first of August, 1956. Stevenson may have lost his bid for office, but Garner felt like he came out a winner.
Clarke would later tell the press that Garner shed a tear when she accepted his marriage proposal. After walking down the aisle and exchanging marriage vows, James became the stepfather of Kimberly Garner, Lois’ daughter from a previous union.
Just two years after the couple got married, Clarke gave birth to a daughter whom they named Greta “Gigi” Garner in 1958. Gigi would later speak highly of her father, whom she described as a ‘good guy’ who used to do everything within his power to stay connected with her regardless of where he was in the world or how busy he was with his demanding career.
Gigi also added that all of her friends adored her dad not only because he was a big famous movie star, but also because he remarkably funny. Everyone seemed to love it whenever James was around. He could light up a room just with his presence, and he always did his best to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
Injuries and Health Problems Nearly Derailed His Career
While Garner will always be remembered as a loving family man, his numerous surgeries made his life quite challenging. Since James insisted on doing his own stunt work, he ended up suffering many back and knee injuries that eventually forced him to quit. Garner once even admitted that during every hiatus that he would take from acting and for a total of five years in a row, he had to have knee operations.
But it wasn’t just his back and knees that required surgery. In 1988, Garner had to go under the knife to clear an obstruction that was restricting blood flow to his heart. Then, in 2008, Garner had to go out onto the operating table once again after suffering from a minor stroke.
The Rockford Files Caused Garner Constant Pain And Suffering
Six seasons of playing Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files took a serious toll on Garner’s health. Like we mentioned just a moment ago, Garner was always insistent on doing his own stunt work despite the fact that the studio would have gladly hired a professional stunt double if he had requested one.
When talking to the press about why he eventually had to quit the show, Garner revealed that once he had sustained one injury, it was basically all downhill from there.
“One injury will bring on another” Garner explained. “You start favoring one leg, and then the other leg will go, and then your back will go, and you got to start taking medication, and then that affects your stomach…and then you get depression.”
Not only did a series of injuries have a serious impact on Garner’s acting career during this chapter of his life, but he also complained of having a persistent sinus affection that lingered with him for the better part of four years. This evidently was the result of an injury that caused bone to grow over one of his sinuses. Even medication wasn’t enough to alleviate his symptoms. In the end, he was left with having to contend with a constant low-grade infection.
He Got Into A Vicious Street Fight
In 1981, Garner told Panorama magazine about the time that he got into a violent altercation out on the streets of LA following a traffic accident. After getting into a collision, the other driver leaped out of his vehicle and began hitting Garner through the window. After the other individual landed eight or nine blows, Garner got out of his car and grabbed the guy. In the process, the two fell into the street, with Garner landing on top of his attacker. That’s when the other individual decided to grab Garner by his groin and squeeze as hard as he could.
The attacker then got up and started kicking Garner repeatedly in the head and all around the rest of his body. At that point, Garner was laying on his stomach, bleeding, bruised, and about as busted as can be. In the end, Garner had numerous broken bones and one heck of a concussion. Despite having his tail handed to him, Garner told Panorama that the guy still wasn’t ‘all that tough’. I’m not sure if that makes him a badass or a glutton for punishment, but either way, you got to hand it to Garner for defending himself.
He Suffered Injuries on the Space Cowboys Set
Space Cowboys, in case you’ve never seen it, was a film about a bunch of aging astronauts who get lured out of retirement to defuse a dangerous Cold War-era satelite. Garner, alongside Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones portrayed the film’s eponymous geriatric spacemen.
Jones, who was the youngest cast member at 53 at the time, was once quoted as saying that the film’s space suits were particularly uncomfortable. Not only were they a painful chore to put on, but they were a hassle and a half to take off and maneuver around in.
They were so heavy that apparently at one point Donald Sutherland accidentally fell backward and cracked his knee. James Garner, who was 72 during the film’s production, likewise took a fall doing another scene that resulted in him dislocating his shoulder.
Both Sutherland and Garner pressed on filming despite their injuries. Reportedly, Eastwood himself was the one who administered first aid while on set, tending to Garner’s injured shoulder.
Back when Clint was filming Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in 1973, he too suffered a chronic shoulder dislocation. Through that experience, he learned how to pop a dislocated bone back into place. While Garner went right back to work and finished up shooting for the day, Eastwood said that it was quite a while before he was back out on the Golf links again.
Garner reportedly refused to attribute his injury to the feebleness of old age. Instead, he claimed that his accident was purely the result of clumsiness. He wasn’t willing to accept for one second that he and his aging co-stars were limited in any way, shape, or form by their advancing age.
The only time that Garner was willing to admit that he and his codgerly colleagues weren’t aging quite as gracefully as they hoped was the time that they filmed a scene that involved all the guys showing off their bare bottoms to the camera.
Sutherland was quoted as saying that during the filming of that scene, he looked frantically to see if anything could redeem his bare backside, but alas, nothing could. By that point, the effects of time and gravity had already done their damage.
Sadly, time and advancing age eventually caught up to James Garner. After having his stroke in 2008, James was left in poor health. On July 19, 2014, police and medics were dispatched to his Brentwood, Los Angeles home, where he was found dead at the age of 86. It was later revealed that he had died of a heart attack.
Garner was survived by his wife of nearly 58 years, Lois, as well as his two daughters, Kim and Gigi.
James Garner was without a doubt one of the finest actors of his time. He’s left behind a legacy that will endure for many years to come.
What is your favorite one of James Garner’s acting roles, and did you know that throughout his career, he insisted on doing all of his own stunts? Let us know in the comments.