Mr. James died April 15, 2017, at 96. (AP)

Clifton James, an actor best known for his indelible portrayal of a Southern sheriff in two James Bond films but who was most proud of his work on the stage, died April 15 at a daughter’s home in Gladstone, Ore. He was 96.

Another daughter, Lynn James, said the cause was complications from diabetes.

Mr. James often played a convincing Southerner but loved working on the stage in New York during the prime of his career.

One of his first significant roles playing a Southerner was as a cigar-chomping prison worker in the 1967 classic “Cool Hand Luke.” His long list of roles also included the swaggering, tobacco-spitting Louisiana sheriff J.W. Pepper in the Bond films.

His portrayal of the sheriff in “Live and Let Die” in 1973 more than held its own with sophisticated English actor Roger Moore’s portrayal of Bond. Mr. James’s daughter said that he met with real Southern sheriffs to prepare for the role.

Mr. James was such a hit that writers carved a role for him in the next Bond film, “The Man With the Golden Gun,” in 1974. Mr. James, this time playing the sheriff on vacation in Thailand, is pushed into the water by a baby elephant.

“He wasn’t supposed to actually go in,” said his daughter. “They gave him sugar in his pocket to feed the elephant. But he wasn’t giving it to the elephant fast enough.”

George Clifton James was born in Spokane, Wash., on May 29, 1920, the oldest of five siblings and the only boy. The family lost its money at the start of the Depression and moved to Gladstone, just outside Portland, where Mr. James’s maternal grandparents lived.

In the 1930s, he worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps before serving in the Army in the South Pacific during World War II. His decorations included the Silver Star, the Bronze Star Medal and two awards of the Purple Heart.

After the war, Mr. James took classes at the University of Oregon and acted in plays. Inspired, he moved to New York and launched his acting career.

His wife, Laurie, died in 2015. Survivors include five children, two sisters, 14 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

—Associated Press