It’s been nearly four years since Hollywood icon James Garner died at age 86 in July 2014 and, above all, the actor’s daughter Gigi Garner fondly remembers her famous dad as “just a good guy.”
“He made a concentrated effort to stay connected to me, no matter where he was. My dad was just a good guy — the guy with the white hat,” Gigi, 60, exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.
James and his stepdaughter, Kimberly Garner.
Gigi was born to James and his beloved wife, Lois Clarke, back in January 1958, two years after the Maverick star tied the knot with Lois. “I fell in love for the first and last time on Aug. 1, 1956, at the Adlai Stevenson for President rally — he lost, I won. That’s where I met Lois Clarke. It was love at first sight,” James once said of meeting his wife.
Though James’ Methodist family opposed his marriage to Lois, who is Jewish, the actor proposed just two weeks after the pair met. “James won’t like me telling this, but a tear ran down his cheek when I said yes,” Lois once confessed. “‘I never thought anybody would love me,’ he said.”
Before he found fame, James and his two brothers endured a tumultuous childhood in Oklahoma. Born James Scott Bumgarner — a studio exec later convinced him to drop the “Bum” — the star didn’t remember his real mother, who died when he was just four years old. “It wasn’t until I was 15 that my cousin Betty told me my mom died of uremic poisoning after a botched abortion. She was 26. We never talked about it in the family,” he once revealed.
Soon after, his alcoholic father remarried a woman nicknamed Red, who physically abused James and his siblings, Jack Garner and Charles Bumgarner. “She enjoyed beating the bejesus out of us. Red liked to put me in a dress and make everyone call me ‘Louise.’ Now they’d put that woman in jail for what they did to us. But in those days, nobody cared,” James once said of his stepmother.
James and his wife, Lois.
Years later, James finally found happiness with Lois, her daughter, Kimberly Garner, and their daughter, Gigi. “My dad never met a child he could resist… My friends adored him, too, and not because he was some big Hollywood star, but because I had the most fun dad. If I wanted to jump off the balcony into the pool, he would do it first just to make sure it was safe,” Gigi told Closer of her late father.
For more on James Garner, pick up the new issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and sign up for our newsletter!