James Best, the actor best known for his portrayal of bumbling yet endearing Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on TV’s “The Dukes of Hazzard,” died at 9:28 p.m. Monday April 6th after a brief illness and complications of pneumonia. He was 88.. Jimmie watched over the cast like a father figure to insure that everything that was done was correct and fair. His talent as an actor, director and artist made him a singular sensation – and the love and humor he shared with us all will remain unsurpassed.
James Best was born as Jewel Franklin Guy on July 26, 1926, in Powderly, Kentucky, to Lark and Lena Guy. His mother was the sister of Ike Everly, the father of the pop duo The Everly Brothers. After his mother died of tuberculosis in 1929, then three-year-old James was sent to live in an orphanage. He was later adopted by Armen Best (1897–1984) and his wife, Essa Myrtle and went to live with them in Corydon, Indiana. He served honorably in the United States Army in World War II, training in 1944 in Biloxi, Mississippi, as a gunner on a B-17 bomber; but by the time he finished training the war was almost at an end and he joined the Military Police. As an MP, Best played a role in bringing stability to war-torn Germany immediately after their surrender. While stationed in Germany, Best transferred out of the MP and joined a special services unit of actors for the US Army that travelled around Europe performing plays for the troops. This was the true beginning of his acting career.
Best played Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on CBS’s The Dukes of Hazzard from the debut of the program in 1979 until the end of the series in 1985. That role was Best’s most visible success. He later revealed that the caricature-like persona of Sheriff Coltrane was developed from a voice he used when playing with his young children. On set, Best was particularly close to Sorrell Booke, who played the character of Boss Hogg, who was both the boss and the brother-in-law of Rosco. The two actors became close friends; and according to interviews by the series’ creators, the two would often improvise their scenes together, making up their own dialogue as they went along.
Prior to his death, Best’s former Dukes of Hazzard co-star and long-time friend, John Schneider, said; “I laughed and learned more from Jimmie in one hour, than from anyone else in a whole year.” He also added that, when asked to cry for the 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.” Nearly one year after Best’s death, Schneider said about his working relationship with Best: “He was amazing in everything he did; he was not just a funny guy. In fact, I think the comedic timing came to him later on in life because before that he was a very serious actor. I was very fortunate to have grown up working with people like Jimmie Best and Denver Pyle and Sorrell Booke. Incredibly talented men, incredibly talented actors.”