James Arness, star of Gunsmoke, has died in his Los Angeles home of natural causes.
Gunsmoke, the longest running live-action primetime drama TV series in American history, began as a radio series running from 1952-61, and is still cited as a canonical example of the radio play. With its gritty, realistic tone and attention to detail, it was one of the first cultural turning points leading to the darker and more complete Western we know and love today.
The series was brought to the screen in 1955 with all roles recast, and with Arness in the lead role of Marshall Matt Dillon. Arness, a two-metre giant with a lifelong limp from injuries received in World War II, was already a well-established actor with 30 films under his belt.
The Gunsmoke of TV was of necessity less brutal than its radio counterpart, and whereas the Marshall Dillon of the radio series was portrayed as almost as damaged as the criminals from which he protected Dodge City, Arness’ Dillon was a kinder, gentler Marhsall.
The series, which ran on CBS for 20 seasons and 635 episodes, ended in 1975, but Arness reprised his role in five made-for-TV movies between 1987 and 1993.
Arness was nominated for three separate Emmies over the run of the series, and was forever associated with his character, despite numerous other film and TV appearances, notably the miniseries How The West Was Won, and a starring role as a police officer in the short-lived TV series McLain’s Law.
Arness retired from acting in 1993 at the age of 70. He released his book James Arness: An Autobiography in September 2001.