James Arness, 88, died of natural causes (heart failure) at his Brentwood home in Los Angeles, California on June 3, 2011. Arness is survived by one of his three remaining children, son Rolf, 59.
This Hollywood icon was an actor best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years.
Arness has the distinction of having played the role of Dillon in five separate decades from 1955 to 1975 in the weekly series, then in Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987) and four more made-for-TV Gunsmoke movies in the 1990s.
Cast of Gunsmoke
- James Arness as Matt Dillon
- Amanda Blake as Kitty
- Steve Forrest as Mannon
- Buck Taylor as Newly O’Brien
- Earl Holliman as Jake Flagg
- Fran Ryan as Hannah
In Europe Arness reached cult status for his role as Zeb Macahan in the western series How the West Was Won. His younger brother was actor Peter Graves known for acting in TV’s Mission: Impossible who died, also of hear failure, at 83 in 2010.
After his military discharge James Arness entered Beloit College in Wisconsin and began his performing career as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945.
Arness first came to Hollywood by hitchhiking and soon began acting and appearing in films. He began with RKO, which immediately changed his name from “Aurness”. His film debut was as Loretta Young’s (Katie Holstrom) brother, Peter Holstrom, in The Farmer’s Daughter (1947).
Though identified with westerns, Arness also appeared in two science fiction films, The Thing from Another World (in which he portrayed the title character) and Them!.
Arness was a close friend of John Wayne and co-starred with him in Big Jim McLain, Hondo, Island in the Sky, and The Sea Chase.
After Gunsmoke ended, Arness performed in western-themed movies and television series, including How the West Was Won, and in five made-for-television Gunsmoke movies between 1987 and 1994.
An exception to portraying a cowboy was when he was a big city police officer in a 1981 series, McClain’s Law.
James Arness: An Autobiography was released in September 2001, with a foreward by Burt Reynolds.
“If I was going to write a book about my life, I better do it now … ’cause I’m not getting any younger.” – James Arness