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James Best, Sheriff Coltrane of 'Dukes of Hazzard' Dies

James Best as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane of "The Dukes of Hazzard." (Photo by CBS)

LOS ANGELES - Actor James Best, who is best remembered for portraying bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in "The Dukes of Hazzard," died late Monday in Hickory, North Carolina at age 88.

The actor died in a hospice after a brief illness due to complications from pneumonia, said Steve Latshaw, a longtime friend. Best had fallen ill while he was on a cruise and was unable to recover.

His career included roles in such movies as “The Caine Mutiny” with Humphrey Bogart and “Shenandoah” with Jimmy Stewart. As a character actor in television, he was cast on popular shows like “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Bonanza” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”

As a busy actor for decades in Hollywood, Best didn’t reach stardom until “The Dukes of Hazzard” premiered in 1979. As Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, Best chased the moonshine-running brothers Bo and Luke Duke throughout the backroads of Hazzard County. But his pursuits often ended in him crashing his patrol car and the Dukes escaping.

Best’s characterization of the slow-witted Rosco with a child-like demeanor endeared him to viewers over the show’s seven-season run.

Best was born with the name Jewel Guy on July 26, 1926 in Powderly, Kentucky. He was orphaned at the age of 3 and was adopted by Armen and Essa Best renamed him James. He grew up in rural Indiana and served in the Army in World War II before arriving in Hollywood to launch his acting career.

Beginning in 1950 and on through the 1960s and 70s, Best accumulated a wide variety of film and television credits, having starred in such TV shows as “The Twilight Zone,” “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” then on to work in such seminal films as “Sounder,” “Ode to Billie Joe,” and several movies starring Burt Reynolds such as “Gator,” “Nickelodeon,” and “Hooper.”

A number of stars shared their thoughts on Twitter on Best’s passing such as Catherine Bach, who played Daisy Duke on “The Dukes of Hazzard.” She said: Darling Jimmy, thank you for all the laughs, support and love. I will miss you like crazy honey RIP.”

John Schneider, who played Bo Duke in the series tweeted: “I laughed and learned more from Jimmie in one hour than from anyone else in a whole year. Give Uncle Jesse my love when you see him dear friend.”

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