James Best (born Jewel Guy, July 26, 1926–April 6, 2015) was an American actor. He played Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on both The Dukes of Hazzard and its animated spin-off.
James Best was an American character actor and teacher. Born Jewel Guy in Powderly, Kentucky, on July 26, 1926, he was orphaned at 3 and adopted by Armen and Essa Best, who renamed him James K. Best and raised him in Corydon, Indiana. After high school, he worked briefly as a metalworker before joining the Army during World War II in July 1944. The majority of his service was as an MP in Wiesbaden, Germany just after the end of the war. While still in Germany, Best was transferred to Special Services and began his acting career. According to Best, he first acted in a European tour of "My Sister Eileen" directed by Arthur Penn.
Upon his return to the United States, Best toured in road and stock companies in plays and musicals, and was finally spotted by a scout from Universal Pictures, who put him under contract. A handsome young man, his rural inflections perhaps kept him from frequent leading man roles. During the 1950s and '60s, he was a familiar face in movies and television in a wide range of roles, from Western bad guys to craven cowards and country bumpkins.
Physical ailments curtailed his work for a long period late in his career, and Best established a well-respected acting workshop in Los Angeles. He also served as artist-in-residence at the University of Mississippi, teaching and directing. He worked in both acting and producing capacities for Burt Reynolds on several of the latter's films in the late 1970s, before taking on his greatest commercial success. Although The Dukes of Hazzard (1979) was far beneath his talents, his role as Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane was the part that gave him his greatest fame. While working on that show, he was a mentor to Catherine Bach.
He continued teaching, both in Hollywood and later at the University of Central Florida. Semi-retired, he made personal appearances and exhibited his paintings until his death in 2015.