James Garner and the Close Friends You Will Never Meet
Last Saturday, July 19, 2014, Americans experienced the passing of someone close to many of us. James Garner died at his Los Angeles, California home at the age of 86. In his six decades as an actor Garner developed a wide fanbase through his iconic performances. A master of making acting look easy, we all felt like we knew Jim Garner. We even felt comfortable calling him by his nickname. Whether it was for Maverick, The Rockford Files or any of his movie roles, or even his passionate involvement in the 1963 Civil Rights Movement with such celebrities as Diahann Carroll, many people saw his death as a personal loss.
Maybe this should not seem remarkable but it is. You see, you never met Garner. Neither did I yet I’m sorry at his passing. At first this seems a selfish act: we wonder (and regret) the roles he will never play now. This despite his declaration in his 2011 memoir The Garner Files that he was retired but that he was still open to coming back for the right role. Of course, it never happened. For me, it means one more tangible symbol that my past isn’t coming back. While there are many aspects of childhood I’ll never miss, I’ll always treasure the entertainment my family got from any Garner movie or TV series. As more members of my family become memories I still had the man himself, a living, handsome presence, to serve as a connection to that past.
We all have celebrities who mean something personal to us. Maybe for you it was Kurt Cobain or Heath Ledger or Philip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Walker. Or what about John Lennon, Princess Diana, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, or even Elvis Presley? The list is endless, yet intimately personal. When you lose a celebrity you lose a connection to a time or a place that feels personal. It’s almost like cutting off a body part and throwing it away. Hey, I wasn’t done with that, you think. I still wanted and needed it.
Of course, nothing and no one is that simple. My regard for Garner does not allow for the fact that he did not write his own scripts even if he was masterful at delivering the lines written for him. The laid-back, peace-loving screen persona he presented in his roles did not mesh with a man who admitted to a hair-trigger temper.
None of these facts negates the man’s professional accomplishments. In fact, they make his career all the more admirable. They also make me realize the huge gap between the illusion of reality created by books, movies, TV, video games and the reality of everyday lives. After a few days of thinking what this man I only knew from a TV picture, a movie screen or a book meant to me, I’m grateful that Jim Garner created an alternate reality that my family and I enjoyed so much. That’s the best tribute I can pay to such an important part of my past.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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