James Best, who portrayed Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard, died Monday night (April 6) in Hickory, North Carolina, following a brief illness and complications of pneumonia. He was 88.
The youngest of eight brothers and a sister, Best was born Jewel Franklin Guy in Powderly, Kentucky, to Larkin Jasper Guy and Lena Mae Everly Guy. His mother was the sister of Ike Everly, the father of Don and Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers.
After being sent to an orphanage following his mother’s death in 1929, he was adopted by Essa and Armen Best and moved with them to their home in Corydon, Indiana. He became known as Jimmie Best and acted in his first play while still a youth.
Upon graduating from high school, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and served in the military police in Germany during World War II. Following the war, he moved to New York City to pursue an acting career and later headed to Hollywood to become a contract actor for Universal Studios.
Best worked in films with James Stewart and Paul Newman before embarking on a TV career with a role on Gene Autry’s TV show. The work led to numerous TV roles, including appearances on iconic TV series such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonanza, The Andy Griffith Show.”
However, Best is best known for portraying Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, the bumbling but lovable character on The Dukes of Hazzard, which ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985. Even after the series completed its run, Best retained a high visibility nationally thanks to countless reruns, including a popular run on CMT.
In later years, he appeared at various events and reunions surrounding the continued popularity of The Dukes of Hazzard. Vocal in his support of animal welfare causes, he was thrilled to meet fans who often brought their own dogs to the events in memory of Flash, the basset hound who was often at Best’s side on the TV series.
He also continued to hone his skills as a painter and writer, in addition to his stage and screen work as a performer, producer and director.
His last completed film was 2013’s The Sweeter Side of Life, a film produced for the Hallmark channel. At the time of his death, he also was scheduled to star in Old Soldiers, a feature film about World War II veterans that was set to begin filming this year. He was also co-writing a screenplay about the Civil War.
Following his death, several of his co-stars on The Dukes of Hazzard issued statements about Best’s importance to them and the show.
“The work he did with Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg) probably defined our show as much as the car chases,” said Tom Wopat, who portrayed Luke Duke. “He was a fine actor, director and mentor and an even better friend. He will be greatly missed.”
“Jimmie Best — of course, I laughed,” John Schneider, who co-starred as Bo Duke, said in remembering his friend’s outgoing personality. “But I learned more about acting in front of a camera from Jimmie Best in an afternoon than from anyone else in a year. 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.”
Best is survived by actress Dorothy Collier, his wife of 29 years, along with his son Gary Allen Best and wife Angela, daughter JoJami Best Tyler and husband Eric, daughter Janeen Damian and husband Michael Damian and three grandchildren Lauren Best, Cameron Tyler and Tessa Tyler.
Private arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to a local humane society.