Hugely popular US actor James Garner, whose award-winning career spanned more than half a century, has died aged 86.

The actor died on Saturday, July 19, at his Los Angeles home, says the Hollywood Reporter. He had a stroke in 2008 and had rarely been seen in public since.

Garner was best known for playing a Los Angeles private eye in the TV series The Rockford Files, which ran from 1974-80 before knee and back injuries – many sustained because he did his own stunts — forced him to quit.

“I couldn’t take that many beatings any more,” he once said.

Garner was nominated for an Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series for five consecutive years, winning in 1977. The Rockford Files racked up three Best Drama nominations from 1978-80 and took the trophy in 1978.

Garner also starred in the 1957-62 ABC Western-comedy hybrid Maverick, in which he played a smooth card shark, who would just as soon slip out the back door than face a gunman.

“Bravery gets you nothing but hurt,” Garner once said.

Both TV series showcased his sense of humour and talent for playing the reluctant hero.

Garner also appeared in dozens of films, including The Great Escape in 1963 with Steve McQueen, Victor Victoria in 1982 with Julie Andrews, Murphy’s Romance in 1985 with Sally Field, for which he received his only Oscar nomination, and Space Cowboys in 2000.

He also had a role in the 1994 movie Maverick, starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster. And in 2004, Garner played the older version of Ryan Gosling in The Notebook opposite Gena Rowlands.

Whatever his roles, Garner’s acting appeared effortless. A Los Angeles Times critic wrote in 1986 that “James Garner is to the American character what David Niven was to the English character: a lover in preference to a fighter (but capable of heroics), worldly and charming with elements of the vagabond and the debonair rascal, a sort of innocent rogue with an easy way with urbane dialogue.”

Garner was very choosy about the kind of roles he took.

“I don’t want to do movies with a lot of profanity, and I don’t want to take my clothes off,” he once said. “I don’t do horror pictures, or I would take my clothes off.”

Garner is survived by his two daughters and wife, Lois. They dated for two weeks and were married for 56 years.