Joe Santos with James Garner, in The Rockford Files. (Photo: Getty Images)

Joe Santos, best known for his role as put-upon police sidekick Dennis Becker on the ’70s detective series The Rockford Files, has died. Santos was 84.

Santos got his start as an actor in the ’60s exploitation film scene in New York; his early credits include small parts in movies like Moonlighting Wives and Shaft’s Big Score. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, he slowly worked his way into TV—often in cop-related shows, which utilized his stolid features for characters on both sides of the law—with appearances on shows like Barnaby Jones and the anthology series Police Story.

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In 1974, he scored his career-making role on Rockford, appearing opposite (and playing foil to) star James Garner in nearly 100 episodes of the long-running series. His character, Sergeant (later Lieutenant) Dennis Becker, spent most of his appearances bantering with down-on-his-luck detective Jim Rockford, usually as a preliminary for fudging some bit of police procedure in the gumshoe’s favor. Santos ended up playing the character, off and on, for more than 25 years; his last appearance as Becker was in the final Rockford TV movie, 1999’s If It Bleeds…It Leads.

His role on Rockford helped raise Santos’ acting profile considerably, and he worked steadily through the ’80s and ’90s, on shows like Hardcastle & McCormick and Magnum, P.I. His last major role was an eight-episode turn on The Sopranos, where he culminated the cops-and-gangsters trajectory of his entire career with a turn as “retired” consigliere Angelo Garepe in the show’s fifth season.

According to his son, Santos suffered a heart attack on March 14; he died four days later, in Santa Monica, California.

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