James Best, a character actor best known for playing the giggling and inept Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on “The Dukes of Hazzard,” died April 6 in Hickory, N.C. He was 88.
His wife of 29 years, Dorothy Best, said he had complications from pneumonia.
On “The Dukes of Hazzard,” which ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985, Mr. Best was the lawman in Hazzard County, Ga., futilely chasing the Duke boys in their Dodge Charger, the “General Lee,” often in the company of his droopy-faced basset hound, Flash.
Mr. Best employed a battery of catch phrases in the role, as well as memorable laugh that was comically villainous.
“I acted the part as good as I could,” he told the Charlotte Observer in a 2009 interview. “Rosco, let’s face it, was a charmer. It was a fun thing.”
During a wide-ranging career of several decades, Mr. Best also acted in movies that include “The Caine Mutiny” (1954) and “Rolling Thunder” (1977). He also appeared on television shows such as “Gunsmoke” and “The Andy Griffith Show” in the 1960s.
Mr. Best also was an acting teacher who helped several future Hollywood stars learn how to appear more natural on camera.
“I learned more about acting in front of a camera from Jimmie Best in an afternoon than from anyone else in a year,” said Dukes of Hazzard co-star John Schneider, who played Bo Duke. “When asked to cry on camera, he would say, ‘Sure thing. Which eye?’ I’m forever thankful to have cut my teeth in the company of such a fine man.”
Mr. Best was born in the western Kentucky community of Powderly, the youngest of eight brothers and a sister. After his mother died when he was a toddler, Mr. Best was adopted and raised in Indiana. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II and started acting in a military theater company, according to his Web site.