James Arness Dies at 88

Actor, James Arness, who played Marshall Dillon on the long-running TV Western “Gunsmoke”, passed away on June 3, 2011 in his Los Angeles home. He was 88 years old.

The actor was born in Minneapolis, MN on May 23, 1923 as James King Aurness. He changed his last name to Arness when he took up acting. His younger brother was Peter Graves, star of another popular 1960s series, “Mission Impossible” and later, the “Airplane!” comedies. Peter Graves died last year at 83.

As Marshall Matt Dillon, Arness ran Dodge City for 20 years, complemented by characters who became as familiar to viewers as the Marshall himself. There was Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), Doc Adams (Milburn Stone), and Marshall Dillon’s limping deputy, Chester (Dennis Weaver). Weaver left “Gunsmoke” in 1964 and Ken Curtis joined the show as Festus Haggen. The western ran from 1955 until 1975 and was the last of its breed, sort of like the Marshall. Arness once said what made the show stand out was the “outstanding quality of writing.” The 6′ 6″ actor retired from acting in 2001 because he said he no longer had the stamina for it.

Arness was first married to actress Virginia Chapman from 1948 until they divorced in 1963. Virginia had an uncredited role as a gypsy in a couple of early “Gunsmoke” episodes. The couple had 3 children. Their daughter, Jenny Lee (who died in 1975) also had appeared in two episodes in when she was a teenager in 1964. He also had two sons, Rolf and Craig. He later married Janet Surtrees in 1978. Arness is survived by his wife and two sons.

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