"a life-long user of marijuana, celebrating its emotional support and physical help with his arthritis."
Know for his TV roles in Maverick and The Rockford Files, and for films like The Great Escape, Garner made an "explosive revelation" in his 2011 autobiography The Garner Files: that he has smoked marijuana for much of his adult life.
Garner wrote: “I started smoking it in my late teens. I drank to get drunk but ultimately didn’t like the effect. Not so with grass. It had the opposite effect from alcohol: it made me more tolerant and forgiving.
“I did a little bit of cocaine in the Eighties, courtesy of John Belushi, but fortunately I didn’t like it. But I smoked marijuana for 50 years and I don’t know where I’d be without it. It opened my mind and now it eases my arthritis. After decades of research I’ve concluded that marijuana should be legal and alcohol illegal.”
Those are three more pothead traits, as was his political activism: In 1963 he marched on on Washington for civil rights along with Diahann Carroll and Paul Newman (pictured), and he said his favorite role was in the anti-war film The Americanization of Emily.
During an interview with Charlie Rose, Garner talks about being a "card carrying liberal" and says he met his wife Lois Clarke while working on the Adlai Stevenson campaign. Rose concludes, "There is something uniquely and to-his-bone American about James Garner." (He was right: Garner's grandfather was a full-blood Cherokee.)
Sally Field said Garner was "hands down" the best kisser she worked with; reportedly Doris Day and Julie Andrews said so too. Jean Simmons once said she wished her husband, a heavy drinker, was more like Robert Mitchum, another laid-back actor who was also a lifelong marijuana smoker and enthusiast. Like Mitchum, Garner—born James Bumgarner as the son of an Oklahoma carpet layer—was on his own at an early age, drifting through various jobs until he was discovered by an agent while working as a gas station attendant.
On a 1974 "Rockford Files" episode with guest star Shelly Fabares, Garner as Rockford searches his couch cushions for his car keys, and instead pulls out what looks like a pipe. Glancing furtively at his client (Fabares), he pockets the pipe and puts his hand back into the couch, pulling out a bra instead.
"What's My Line" panelist Arlene Francis pronounced Garner the most-liked actor ever, and a 1985 profile called him "immensely likable." Loved by the ladies, he was also a man's man: a three-time pace car driver at the Indianapolis 500, he served in the Army during the Korean War and earned two Purple Hearts. As an actor, he earned many more hearts.