Actor James Best, who played the Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, the bumbling but lovable officer that was always trying to get Bo and Luke Duke, died on Monday evening at the age of 88.
Longtime friend Steve Latshaw tells the Charlotte Observer that Best died in hospice after a brief illness of complications from pneumonia.
James Best was born Jewel Franklin Guy on July 26, 1926 to parents Lena Mae Everly Guy and Larkin Jasper Guy. Best was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters when he was born. James was raised in Powderly, Kentucky until his mother died in 1929 when he was just 3-years-old. After her death, Best was sent to live in an orphanage for a short time until he was adopted by Armen and Essa Best, and moved to their home in Corydon, Indiana.
James adoptive father taught him all kinds of things growing up, such as boxing skills, marksmanship with a variety of weapons, and he instilled a love of fishing and the outdoors into the young boy that would stay with him throughout his life. Best would discover his love for acting when he got a part in his first play, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
In 1944, after Best graduated from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, with plans on being a pilot. Instead, Best was assigned a job as a gunner and a radio operator. As World War II died down and planes were being taken out of commission, Best was not needed as a gunner anymore and was transferred to the military police division, to help handle dangerous situations on the ground in Germany.
After the war, Best had his sights set on New York and Broadway to continue his acting career. He acted in summer and winter stock productions to work on his acting skills, and also took a job as a fashion model to help pay the bills. While James was modeling, he caught the eye of a big Hollywood casting agent. The casting agent helped Best get into Universal Studios as a contract actor. He would join other big names like Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, and Shelley Winters, who were also contract players for the studio.
James would be featured in dozens of television shows and movies throughout his acting career including popular shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and The Andy Griffith Show. He would get his big break when he landed the role of Sherriff Rosco P. Coltrane on the hit show The Dukes of Hazzard in 1979.
Best would spend his seven seasons on the show, fumbling around constantly trying to get Bo and Luke Duke, but through a series of comical errors, he never could quite catch the pair. Best would also star in two reunion movies, and make several appearances at festivals and fan gatherings after the Dukes ended.
James married his third wife Dorothy in 1986 and the pair moved to Lake Hickory in North Carolina. Although Best did not have any children with Dorothy, he had two daughters, Janeen and Jojami and a son Gary from two previous marriages.
Best wrote a book about his career called Best in Hollywood: The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful.
“Only thing that makes me sad about having so little time left,” Best wrote in the book, “is leaving the people I love and those who love me. There are also films and other projects that I want to get done, and there are always fish that need catching.”
Private arrangements for Best’s funeral are still being made, but memorial donations may be made to the Humane Society in the actor’s name.
[Photo courtesy of CBS Photo Archive]