American actor and star of racing film Grand Prix James Garner has died at the age of 86, according to media reports.
Garner enjoyed a successful acting career, with his two most notable roles coming in TV series Maverick and The Rockford Files.
However, motorsport fans will undoubtedly remember him best for playing the role of American F1 driver Pete Aron in 1966 film Grand Prix, which is widely regarded as being one of the greatest racing movies of all time.
The movie gained a cult status in the motorsport world thanks to appearances from a number of contemporary racing drivers. Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham were just a few of the F1 stars to make a cameo in the movie.
Garner’s love for motor racing was aided by shooting the film, in which he did all of his own stunts and racing scenes. He went on to set up the American International Racers team, which raced at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring in the late 1960s.
His feats in the film industry were recognized by the Screen Actors Guild in 2005, when he won its Lifetime Achievement award. He died at home in Los Angeles yesterday, and is survived by his wife, Lois, and his two daughters.
Rush director Ron Howard paid tribute to Garner on Twitter today, saying that he was “admired by all that knew him. When starring in Grand Prix the people around F1 said he had the talent to be a pro driver.”
1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones also shared his thoughts on Garner, who was a close friend, and who also drove the pace car for the 500 on three occasions.
“I’ll miss Jim for sure and my family and I offer our condolences to his entire family and all his friends,” Jones said. “Jim was a hell of a driver, a competitor, most people don’t remember that and that he raced in a lot of different types of cars over the years. He truly was a “man’s man.”
“Jim was a friend and when he came to Indianapolis as a spectator and pace car driver we obviously welcomed him with open arms. People will remember him for his performances in “Grand Prix,” “The Rockford Files” and also for his excellent acting in so many other movies and TV shows, he was so smooth and such a natural, he made it look easy. He excelled in both movies and television a rarity back then.
“I’ll tell you something else, Jim was also one heck of a golfer, he played scratch golf and we shared lots of fun memories not only at the races together but on the golf course over the years. He was a good, good man and always shared his fun and smiles with those around him. If you were around Jim, you enjoyed the time you spent with him.”