James Best, Rosco P. Coltrane of ‘The Dukes of Hazzard,’ Has Died at Age 88. Best was a wonderfully versatile actor within a self-imposed narrow range—a Southerner who could be wily or stupid, sometimes both and a bit more. He was a gifted musician and acting teacher as well as an actor. Born Jewel Franklin Guy in Powderly, Kentucky, Best came by his show business career naturally–his mother was the sister of Ike Everly, the father of the Everly Brothers.
Most people know him as Roscoe P. Coltrane, a bumbler who was the butt of jokes and pranks by Bo and Luke Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-85).
Best said in an interview that the Dukes writing staff had mostly come from another sitcom, McHale’s Navy, and didn’t know how to write for a Southern-bumpkin sort of character, so Best improvised quite a bit of his dialogue, peppering it with expressions he knew from boyhood.
Pre- and post-Dukes, Best appeared in a lot of television and many movies. You can see him pull a rifle on Randolph Scott in this trailer for the very fine 1959 Budd Boetticher Western Ride Lonesome, in which he played a squeaky-voiced, cowardly outlaw.
Before Roscoe, the TV role Best was probably best known for were his two appearances on The Andy Griffith Show as guitar player Jim Lindsay, whom Sheriff Andy took a shine to.
Best was a cult-movie star as well. Working with his friend, director Ray Kellogg, he starred in 1959’s The Killer Shrews, a perfectly awful horror film that lived on, as an entry in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 series, and in an even more cheerfully dreadful 2012 sequel Return of the Killer Shrews.
Best wrote hundreds of songs; wrote, directed and starred in numerous stage plays; and ran an acting class starting in the 1970s whose students included Farrah Fawcett, Burt Reynolds, and Quentin Tarantino. Always underestimated and under-appreciated, Best was a consistently charming character actor and man, both on-screen and off.
By Ken Tucker
[Editor’s Note: Be sure and watch the clip of James on the Andy Griffith Show to see his guitar picking!]
* * * * *
Lynyrd Skynyrd Drummer Bob Burns Dies in Car Crash at 64
Bob Burns, the original drummer and a founding member of the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, died in a car crash in Georgia. He was 64.
According to the Associated Press, Burns’ vehicle veered off-road near Cartersville just before midnight on Friday, striking a mailbox and a tree.
He was not wearing a seatbelt and was the only person in the car during the single-vehicle accident, which is still under investigation.
Burns, whose full name is Robert Burns Jr., was one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s five founding members. He left the Southern hard rock group in 1974 after playing drums on their first two albums, 1973’s “(Pronounced ‘Leh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd)” and 1974’s “Second Helping.” The band had recorded such hits as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” by then. Artimus Pyle replaced him as drummer for 1975’s “Nuthin’ Fancy.”
Burns rejoined Lynyrd Skynyrd onstage more than three decades later at the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony performance in 2006.
Variety | Maane Khatchatourian
* * * * *
Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths…
6: James Best, 88, American actor and musician (The Dukes of Hazzard, Ride Lonesome, The Twilight Zone), complications from pneumonia; Ray Charles, 96, American musician (The Perry Como Show, The Muppet Show); Milton DeLugg, 96, American composer.
5: Juan Carlos Cáceres, 79, Argentine tango musician and painter, cancer; Claudio Prieto, 80, Spanish composer; Julie Wilson, 90, American singer and actress, stroke complications.
3: Bob Burns, 64, American drummer (Lynyrd Skynyrd), traffic collision; Kayahan, 66, Turkish musician, cancer; Andrew Porter, 86, British music critic, pneumonia.
2: Doug Sax, 79, American audio mastering engineer, cancer.
1: Dave Ball, 65, British musician (Procol Harum); Billy Butler, 69, American soul singer; Roel Cortez (tl), 47, Filipino singer-songwriter, colon cancer; Cynthia Lennon, 75, British author, first wife of John Lennon, cancer.