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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News

James Best, an actor best known for his portrayal of bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on the hit TV series "The Dukes of Hazzard," died Monday night, his wife confirmed to NBC News.

Best, 88, had spent his final days in a Hickory, North Carolina hospice, where he succumbed to complications related to pneumonia, according to his wife, Dorothy Best Collier.

Born in Kentucky in 1926, Best learned acting in the Army, and moved to Hollywood in the 1950s, where he appeared in dozens of war pictures, Westerns and comedies over a career that spanned seven decades. But his most famous character was Coltrane, the ornery lawman who seemed to do nothing but chase Bo and Luke Duke — and their orange 1969 Dodge Charger — around fictional Hazzard County, Georgia.

"Roscoe was his defining character, but he had such a beautiful and wonderful and vast career," Collier said.

Best took on that character after briefly leaving Hollywood to teach acting in the 1970s, according to an obituary posted on Best's website by a friend and authorized by his family. The role came to him in 1979, when CBS developed a mid-season replacement series about a pair of daredevil cousins who outwit and outrun a corrupt county commissioner, Boss Hogg, and his Keystone Cop-like police force. Best's Coltrane, often accompanied by a lethargic basset hound named Flash, became of the show's most popular characters.

"The Dukes of Hazzard" was a massive hit, running until 1985. After the show wrapped, Best kept acting in other projects.

But he continued to embrace Sheriff Coltrane, reprising the character for a pair of reunion movies and in a video game based on the show.

“I acted the part as good as I could,” Best once told The Charlotte Observer. “Rosco — let’s face it — was a charmer. It was a fun thing.”

James Best attends the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel's "2013 Winter TCA" Press Gala at The Huntington Library and Gardens on January 4, 2013 in San Marino, California.Jason Kempin / Getty Images

He also wrote, produced and directed other projects, and acted on stage. He produced a 2012 sequel to the 1959 cult horror movie "The Killer Shrews," in which he had starred. His last completed film was "The Sweeter Side of Life," a 2013 movie for the Hallmark Channel.

At the time of his death, he was working on a film about World War II veterans, his online obituary said.

In addition to Collier, Best is survived by a son, Gary Allen Best, daughters JoJami Best Tyler and Janeen Damian and their families, including three grandchildren.

— Jon Schuppe