James Best dies at 88; actor played sheriff in ‘Dukes of Hazzard’

James Best, an actor best-known for playing the bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on the TV sitcom “The Dukes of Hazzard,” has died. He was 88.

Best died Monday night at a hospice center in Hickory, N.C., after a brief illness following complications from pneumonia, according to a statement from family spokesman Steve Latshaw.

Best got his start in acting in the 1950s, appearing in Western films and TV shows that would include episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gunsmoke” before being cast in “The Dukes of Hazzard.”


The show, which ran from 1979 to 1985 on CBS, starred Tom Wopat and John Schneider as cousins Bo and Luke Duke. As Rosco P. Coltrane, Best played the twangy-toned, often-outwitted sheriff.

“I acted the part as good as I could,” Best said in a 2009 interview with the Charlotte Observer. “Rosco — let’s face it — was a charmer. It was a fun thing.”

He was born Jewel Franklin Guy in Powderly, Ky., on July 26, 1926, the youngest of nine children of Lena Mae Everly Guy and Larkin Jasper Guy, according to an obituary released by his family.

After his mother died in 1929, the child was sent to live in an orphanage until he was adopted by Essa and Armen Best from Corydon, Ind. They called him Jimmie.

Best graduated from high school in 1944, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces and served with the military police in Germany. While in the service he joined a military theater troupe.

After World War II, he hitchhiked to New York City to pursue theater before moving to Hollywood. He acted in dozens of films and hundreds of TV shows over the years.

Best and his third wife, Dorothy, lived for many years in Florida, where he taught acting and film technique at the University of Central Florida, before moving to North Carolina in 2006, in part to enjoy the fishing.

“From the time I was adopted when I was 4 years old up to now, my life has been like a roller coaster,” Best told the Shelby, N.C., Star newspaper last year. “There have been more ups than downs, and I have been enjoying everything. I thank God every day for it.”

Best’s last film was “The Sweeter Side of Life,” a 2013 Hallmark movie written and produced by his daughter Janeen Damian.

In addition to his wife, Dorothy, and daughter Janeen, survivors include his son, Gary Allen Best; another daughter, JoJami Best Tyler; and three grandchildren.

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