Clifton James, best known for his indelible portrayal of a southern sheriff in two James Bond films but who was most proud of his work on the stage, has died. He was 96.
His daughter, Lynn James, said he died yesterday at another daughter’s home in Gladstone, Oregon, due to complications from diabetes.
James often played a convincing southerner but loved working on the stage in New York during the prime of his career.
One of his first significant roles playing a southerner was as a cigar-chomping prison floorwalker in the 1967 classic “Cool Hand Luke.”
His long list of roles also includes swaggering, tobacco-spitting Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper in the Bond films. His portrayal of the redneck sheriff in “Live and Let Die” in 1973 more than held its own with sophisticated English actor Roger Moore’s portrayal of Bond.
James was such a hit that writers carved a role for him in the next Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun,” in 1974. James, this time playing the same sheriff on vacation in Thailand and the epitome of the ugly American abroad, gets pushed into the water by a baby elephant.
George Clifton James was born May 29, 1920, in Spokane, Washington, the oldest of five siblings and the only boy. In the 1930s, James got work with the Civilian Conservation Corps and then entered World War II in 1942 as a soldier with the U.S. Army in the South Pacific, receiving two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.
After the war, James took classes at the University of Oregon and acted in plays. Inspired, he moved to New York and launched his acting career.
James’ wife, Laurie, died in 2015. He is survived by two sisters, five children, 14 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.