James Best, the prolific actor best known for playing the blundering sheriff on “The Dukes of Hazzard,” died Monday from complications of pneumonia, according to a friend, Steve Latshaw. He was 88.
He died in hospice care in Hickory, North Carolina, his wife Dorothy told the Associated Press.
Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane became the signature role of Best’s long Hollywood career, according to an obituary posted on his official website. He chased the Duke brothers of the show's title.
Enticed by the chance to film a television series in fishing country in Georgia, Best agreed to appear in the mid-season replacement show for CBS when it began in 1979, according his site. “The Dukes of Hazzard” ran for seven seasons, from 1979 until 1985.
Tom Wopat, who played the character Luke Duke, said Best’s work probably defined the show as much as its legendary car chases.
“He was a fine actor, director and mentor, and an even better friend,” Wopat said. “He will be greatly missed.”
John Schneider, who played Bo Duke, said he learned more about acting in front of a camera from Best in an afternoon than from anyone else in a year.
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“When asked to cry on camera, he would say, ‘Sure thing… which eye?’” Schneider said. “I’m forever thankful to have cut my teeth in the company of such a fine man.”
Known as Jimmie, Best was born Jewel Franklin Guy in Powderly, Kentucky, on July 26, 1926, to Lena Mae Everly Guy and Larkin Jasper Guy. His uncle was Ike Everly, the father of musical legends Don and Phil Everly, according to his website.
After spending a short time in an orphanage following his mother’s death in 1929, he was adopted by Essa and Armen Best and moved with them to their home in Corydon, Indiana. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps after high school in 1944.
After World War II, he moved to New York City and played in winter and summer stock productions. He also did some fashion modeling, which led to his becoming a contract player for Universal Studios and appearing in classic westerns.
On television, he performed on “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Ben Casey,” and with Burt Reynolds in “Gunsmoke.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, two daughters and three grandchildren.