Infamous for his portrayal of bumbling Louisiana sheriff J.W. Pepper in two James Bond movies, Clifton James has died. James, age 96, passed away at his daughter’s home in Oregon from complications associated with diabetes.
“He was the most outgoing person, beloved by everybody,” said Lynn James, one of Clifton’s daughters, as cited by Fox News. “I don’t think the man had an enemy. We were incredibly blessed to have had him in our lives.”
The adored actor appeared alongside Sir Roger Moore in two consecutive 007 action films, 1973’s Live and Let Die and 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. In both pictures, James played J.W. Pepper, a boastful, tobacco-chewing Louisiana sheriff.
Terribly sad to hear Clifton James has left us. As JW Pepper he gave my first two Bond films a great, fun character.
— Sir Roger Moore (@sirrogermoore) April 15, 2017
To prepare for the role, James visited with real southern sheriffs to help define the J.W. Pepper character. It turned out to be James’ most famous role, with fans often approaching the actor about the character. Lynn James said the Pepper role is the one her father will be forever known for, but it was not his favorite.
In memory of Clifton James (1920-2017) – one of the most colourful characters of the Bond series, Sheriff J.W. Pepper pic.twitter.com/8agyFPLsk5
— James Bond (@jamesbondlive) April 15, 2017
While he is most remembered for the Pepper character, he also appeared in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman. In this film, the actor also took on a southern persona as a cigar-chomping prison guard named Carr.
— ITV News (@itvnews) April 16, 2017
Born May 29, 1920, in Spokane, Washington, Clifton James was the oldest of five siblings. When the Great Depression began, his parents, Grace and Harry James, moved the family to Gladstone, Oregon, near Portland.
For work, James entered the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. At the start of World War II, he became a soldier in the U.S. Army, serving in the South Pacific. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star for his service to the country.
According to Lynn James, the Purple Heart was earned when a bullet punctured his helmet, which ricocheted inside and ultimately struck his nose. The other Purple Heart was received after stray shrapnel damaged his jaw and teeth. She said her father never said how he got the Silver Star.
Once the war was over, James took up acting while attending the University of Oregon. He eventually landed in New York, where his career really took off.
Early on, James performed in multiple Broadway plays, most notably in The Time of Your Life. During his nearly 60-year acting career, James appeared in several movies and television series, including The Bonfire of the Vanities, Eight Men Out, The Untouchables, Gunsmoke, and The A-Team. He even made a one-time appearance in the soap opera All My Children as Kris Kringle.
Clifton James’ last film role was 2006’s Raising Flagg, as reported by the Mirror. He was also cast in Old Soldiers, yet the film was never made because many of the other cast members had passed away during production.
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) April 15, 2017
As he grew older, James enjoyed spending time in New York in the fall and spring. He would live in a Florida condo during the winter and would go back to Oregon in the summer months.
A celebration of James’ life has been scheduled in Gladstone later this year, but nothing else has been planned thus far. Lynn James said her father will be cremated and his ashes are to be spread partly in the Clackamas River in Oregon and partly in New York Harbor.
Clifton James leaves behind two sisters, five children, 14 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. His wife, Laurie, passed away two years ago.
Besides his J.W. Pepper character in the James Bond films, the veteran actor can also be seen playing a blundering Southern lawman in The Reivers, Superman II, Silver Streak, and The Dukes of Hazzard.
[Featured Image by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images]