Born James Bumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma, Garner joined the Merchant Marines at the end of World War II, when he was 16, and later served in the National Guard and the U.S. Army. He received two Purple Hearts for his Army service during the Korean War.
Garner first moved to Los Angeles at age 17 and dabbled in modeling, but didn't begin acting until the mid-1950s, when a high school classmate encouraged him to take a non-speaking role on Broadway. He eventually transitioned to film and television, and was one of the first actors to find equal success in both.
He took on the stage name "James Garner" after a production studio credited him as such, and then legally changed his last name after the birth of his first child. His brother Jack, also an actor, also uses the last name Garner.
Garner starred as Bret Maverick in the TV Western Maverick from 1957 to 1960.
In the 1960s, he starred in several films, including The Great Escape, before returning to television in the 1970s with the single-season seriesNichols in 1971 and The Rockford Files starting in 1974. Garner starred as private investigator Jim Rockford on the show for six seasons, as well as in several TV movies, and won an Emmy Award for Best Actor for the role in 1977.
Garner was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1990 and also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2005, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, and he was honored with a Career Achievement Award by the Television Critics Association in 2010.
Garner's career continued through the 1990s and 2000s, when he appeared in films like Space Cowboys and The Notebook, as well as on TV, where he starred as Grandpa Jim Egan on 8 Simple Rules. He published an autobiography in 2011.
Garner suffered a stroke in 2008 and was reported to be in failing health in May of this year.
He is survived by Lois Clarke, his wife of 57 years, as well as a daughter and a stepdaughter.