A RETIRED showbiz journalist has paid tribute to Hollywood Legend James Garner who died at the weekend

John Rimington, of Rawdon, was Fleet Street’s former Las Vegas-based correspondent for 25 years, where he mingled with the stars.

After Garner's death from natural causes at the age of 86, Mr Rimington said: "He lived up to his nickname Gentleman Jim. He was always polite, and believed in family values."

The former journalist recalled an exclusive interview he had with the Oscar-nominated American actor in January 1980 when Garner revealed he had walked out on his hit TV series The Rockford Files in order to save his marriage.

"I had to decide on whether to gamble my career in favour of my marriage," the star had said. "I knew that carrying on the series would put undue pressure on my personal life. I love Lois dearly, and we both wanted our marriage which was going through a rocky patch to work. So I decided my marriage must take preference over my profession."

The next week he told studio bosses of his decision to quit the series and it was taken off air soon after.

During the six years playing the popular private eye, Garner confessed to "have had nearly every bone broken in my body, and gone through six serious operations from injuries working on the set."

Prior to The Rockford Files, Garner had gained international acclaim for his role as a gambler in another top TV series Maverick, and was one of the first actors who successfully switched from the small screen to the big screen - starring in such classic films as The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen and Grand Prix.

Mr. Rimington revealed that Garner had told him Lois and daughter nearly died at the baby’s birth, and that when his wife recovered the Hollywood heartthrob promised he would "always love her and never be unfaithful" - a pledge he is believed to have kept until his death.

The couple, who married just 14 days after they first met in 1956, remained together unti l his death.

He remained active well into his 70s, but suffered a stroke in 2008, just weeks after his 80th birthday.

Garner was born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma. Before goign into showbusiness he had been a merchant seaman, and briefly worked in his father’s carpeting business in Los Angeles. He was awarded the Purple Heart military medal for his service in the Korean War.

Last year Mr Rimington wrote a book - Mr Showmanship - about the flamboyant performer Liberace, whose sexuality he had helped to keep secret for many years.

The journalist represented Liberace as a publicist during the 25 years he was the Las Vegas-based Fleet Street freelance showbiz correspondent, and later, whenever the star appeared in London, until his Aids-related death in 1987.

His working relationship with the star was so close that he and his wife Joyce – then deputy headmistress at Benton Park School – spent their honeymoon in Liberace’s Hollywood home after their wedding in Frank Sinatra’s hotel suite at Caesars Palace, in Las Vegas 38 years ago.