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James Arness

I am – Hercules.

James Arness, the 6’7” Minnesotan who played the title role in 1951’s “The Thing From Another World” before he starred in CBS’ “Gunsmoke” from 1955 to 1975, passed away Friday, about 15 months after the death of his younger brother, “Mission: Impossible” icon Peter Graves.

While “Law & Order” recently tied “Gunsmoke’s” long-held record as longest-running primetime drama, no single “Law” actor appeared in all 20 seasons.

Regulars came and went on “Gunsmoke” too (Burt Reynolds and Dennis Weaver, who went on to star in their own series, among them), but Arness always stood at the center of the franchise in the role of Marshal Matt Dillon.

He continued as Dillon in five TV movies airing between 1987 and 1993.

The Dillon role was written for John Wayne, who declined the invitation to star in a weekly series but recommended “Hondo” co-star Arness for the role. Wayne’s face was the first we saw on the first episode:

Arness was severely wounded at Anzio, Italy, in 1944 as a rifleman with the U.S. Third Infrantry; it was a leg injury that plagued him the rest of his life.

He made his feature debut playing Loretta Young’s brother in the 1947 Joseph Cotton political drama “The Farmer’s Daughter.”

His first of many westerns was John Ford’s “Wagon Master.”

The year before “Gunsmoke” made him a household name, he scored a starring role in the 1954 giant-bug sci-fi thriller “Them!”

Between the “Gunsmoke” series and the “Gunsmoke” TV movies, NBC tried Arness out as a contemporary cop in 1981’s “McClain’s Law”:

Find USA Today’s obituary for Arness here.

Readers Talkback
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  • June 4, 2011, 1:17 p.m. CST

    Happy trails, Marshall

    by Peter David

    I remember watching "Gunsmoke" in my youth. Great show. PAD

  • June 4, 2011, 1:22 p.m. CST

    Great Actor!

    by James Westfall

    And a WWII vet, wounded at Anzio. Thanks for all the Gunsmoke memories, James Arness. =)

  • June 4, 2011, 1:24 p.m. CST

    Marshall Dillon

    by Raskolnikov_was_framed

    he'll now be banging Ms. Kitty in the big Saloon whorehouse in the sky

  • June 4, 2011, 1:35 p.m. CST

    The quintessential man's man. So long, Marshal Dillon.

    by The Krypton Kid

  • June 4, 2011, 1:36 p.m. CST


    by vosborne951

    Outstanding series...and he defined the roll of television lawman. Always cracked me up to hear Festus call his name drawled out "Mattheeew".

  • June 4, 2011, 1:45 p.m. CST

    " . . . . until we meet again."

    by DrMorbius

    R.I.P. Marshall Matt Dillon. Thanks for all the great memories.

  • June 4, 2011, 2:11 p.m. CST

    R.I.P. James Arness

    by sundancekeed

    Great actor, great show in Gunsmoke and later in How The West Was Won. Arness exuded quiet dignity and strength. A few years back, I got an 8 X 10 signed photograph of him as Dillon for my Dad for Christmas. The money didn't go to Arness, he had me make the check out to the Cerebal Palsy foundation. He signed a nice dedication to my Dad on the front of the photo and it remains one of his favorite possessions. He loves Gunsmoke and still catches the reruns on TV Land as do I. James Arness was a classy, classy guy. He'll be missed.

  • June 4, 2011, 2:14 p.m. CST

    hey current Hollywood sissies, that's a man's man

    by chien_sale

  • Seems to me it would be the classy thing to do.

  • June 4, 2011, 2:49 p.m. CST


    by disfigurehead

  • June 4, 2011, 3:05 p.m. CST

    Keep watching the skies...because James Arness is in Heaven

    by Nasty In The Pasty

  • June 4, 2011, 3:14 p.m. CST

    There's no such thing as heaven.

    by Righteous Brother

    It's a made up concept that only gives comfort to gullible people. I'm sorry.

  • June 4, 2011, 3:14 p.m. CST

    from another world

    by The Fuck

    does it ever age?

  • June 4, 2011, 3:25 p.m. CST

    RIP Mr. Arness

    by BurnedNotice_Dude

    Class act onscreen and off.

  • June 4, 2011, 3:27 p.m. CST

    R.I.P., Marshall Dillon, now a ghost rider in the sky

    by the dolphins are in the jacuzzi

    I remember watching Gunsmoke every afternoon with my grandfather whenever I was at my grandparents' house. My grandfather didn't watch much TV, but the one show he would never miss was Gunsmoke. In fact, he and I wouldn't leave for a weekend hunting trip until after the show was over. Man, this brings back memories. James Arness, you will be missed.

  • June 4, 2011, 3:49 p.m. CST


    by Peter David

    My favorite commentary on the existence of heaven and God was from an exchange in the great "Barney Miller" between Barney and Dietrich. I can't find the exact quote, so I'll do the best I can from memory: DIETRICH: Do you believe in God? BARNEY: Sure. Don't you? DIETRICH: No. I believe we're alone in the universe. That there's no higher power. That our presence here is a result of a random chain of evolutionary events, and that the concept of God is simply something we invented in order to find solace in a frightening world. BARNEY: Okay, but...what if you're wrong? What if you die and you discover that there is an afterlife, and you were being called to accounts for your beliefs? How would you explain yourself? What would you say? (Pause) DIETRICH: (with a shrug) Whoops. I think that pretty much covers it. PAD

  • June 4, 2011, 3:53 p.m. CST


    by Shut the Fuck up Donny

    righteousbrother said he was sorry afterwards! <rolls eyes> Thank you for saying something. Pithy statements made by the likes of him don't really help foster an acceptance of athiests.

  • June 4, 2011, 4:03 p.m. CST

    Oh, and on the topic of the Wayne video...

    by Shut the Fuck up Donny

    I loved that he said "No, I'm not in it. I wish I were though..." It's so refreshing to see somebody speaking know how to use the subjunctive tense. But then again, Wayne was actually a fairly smart "feller"...

  • June 4, 2011, 4:06 p.m. CST


    by notcher

    We must try to communicate with it, a world of history and knowledge is within our grasp, we owe it to science to stay here and die!!!! One of my all time favorite films which I view every October. Goodbye Monster, you will live on in that film always.

  • June 4, 2011, 4:24 p.m. CST

    Hey righteousbrother. There is no end

    by TheJudger

    Energy can not be destroyed. James lives on in whatever form of reality commences after this physical one ends. Anyone who's been dead for a few minutes will tell you that death is not an end. James you rock man. Have a great journey.

  • You wrote, "Arness was severely wounded at Anzio, Italy, in 1944 as a rifleman with the U.S. Third Infrantry; it was a let injury that plagued himthe rest of his life." What is a "let injury"?

  • June 4, 2011, 4:56 p.m. CST


    by Peter David

    "Anyone who's been dead for a few minutes will tell you that death is not an end." Especially if they're Imhotep. PAD

  • June 4, 2011, 5:31 p.m. CST

    hahah @ "some of them have been westerns"

    by sunwukong86

  • June 4, 2011, 5:44 p.m. CST

    Thank you

    by PreciousRoy

    I never knew Arness was kin to Peter Graves... thanks for this tribute.

  • June 4, 2011, 5:51 p.m. CST


    by Peter David

    Well, I wasn't being disrespectful of anyone; just quoting an old TV show. So I doubt anyone will take offense. PAD

  • June 4, 2011, 6:34 p.m. CST

    Still watch Gunsmoke...

    by matineer

    on cable now and its great. Arness was wonderful in it. I believe he liked the role and felt grateful for it. Sorry to hear this.

  • June 4, 2011, 7:28 p.m. CST

    Pay attention, geeks...that was a MAN

    by FeralAngel

    I got hooked on watching reruns of Gunsmoke not long ago...damn, Arness was a fine actor. He was an icon of a happier, cleaner, less cynical age. Too bad the little boys of today are growing up with the images of Peter Griffin and Bart Simpson as role models...gahhhh....this pitiful generation...

  • June 4, 2011, 8 p.m. CST

    everything you love about John Wayne, he learned from James Arness.

    by Arcadian Del Sol

    we will not see the likes of him again. The closest thing we have left is Robert Duvall.

  • June 4, 2011, 8:40 p.m. CST

    feralangel, don't forget Scott Pilgrim, or for that matter

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    anything with Michael Cera.

  • June 4, 2011, 8:43 p.m. CST

    THEM! and The Thing. Now that's respect.

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    Funny thing is I've never seen Gunsmoke. It was before my time. Granted so were these movies, but I've seen THEM! many times. Still who doesn't know who Marshall Dillon, and Miss Kitty are?

  • June 4, 2011, 9:48 p.m. CST


    by Liberal_Warrior


  • Fuck that shit...looks like the Grim Reaper is leaving us with the fucking D team as a joke on humanity. Used to watch Gunsmoke reruns with my grandparents; Good Journey Mr. whatever plane of existence your soul takes you too.

  • June 4, 2011, 10:41 p.m. CST

    About Gunsmoke and Law and Order

    by I Max U Mini

    There were a total of 635 Episodes of Gunsmoke compared to 456 Episodes of Law and Order. James Arness was in every single episode. S. Epatha Merkerson carried the brunt on L&O and was still in only 391 Episodes. As far as I'm concerned, L&O didn't come close to breaking Gunsmoke's record.

  • June 4, 2011, 10:41 p.m. CST

    Thats "Ashton" bitches...

    by conspiracy

  • June 4, 2011, 10:55 p.m. CST


    by Dave Bowman

    I think Marshall Dillon's salmon pink shirt and tan leather vest, the only clothing he seemed to own during Gunsmoke's color years, should be enshrined in the Smithsonian along with Fonzie's jacket and similar cultural ephemera.

  • June 4, 2011, 11:08 p.m. CST

    The actual Dodge City already has a nice tribute in their museum..

    by Mel Garga

    That being said...........sad news that this unique generation of television actors is passing on. I'd be nice to see another TV western pop up one of these days.

  • June 4, 2011, 11:23 p.m. CST

    how popular were arness and gunsmoke?

    by john

    one of the few shows to survive the rural purge as a kid, i never really got into this show....but it was wildly popular and launched many a career

  • June 5, 2011, 2:19 a.m. CST

    Youre correct Mel Garga

    by TheManFromDodgeCity

    The Boot Hill Museum has an extensive collection of articles donated by the cast of Gunsmoke and their families over the years. I had the opportunity to meet Mr Arness lovely wife last year for the 55th Gunsmoke Anniversary celebration that was held here. As a Boot Hill gunfighter I had the pleasure of being part of a 21 pistol salute to James Arness last night in front of a group of visitors from all over the world. Hardly a day goes by that I dont meet someone who is dissapointed to find out that Marshal Matt Dillon wasnt a real Dodge City lawman but his legacy is very very real and we here in Dodge consider him a friend of the highest caliber. And yes, James Arness is in heaven right along with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, Dub Taylor, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, Randolph Scott, Johnny Mack Brown, Tim Holt, Lash LaRue, Clayton Moore and all the rest of the REAL cowboy heroes.

  • June 5, 2011, 2:48 a.m. CST

    Restyles--surviving the purge

    by Peter David

    That's because "Gunsmoke" had a very powerful supporter: Bill Paley, the chief honcho of CBS. It was his favorite show. Actually it was slated to be canceled back in the late 1960s, and supposedly when Paley discovered it was missing from the schedule, insisted it be reinstated. The story goes that the schedulers had to do some serious scrambling: "Gilligan's Island" had already been renewed for a fourth season and that renewal was then revoked to make room for "Gunsmoke." So I suppose how you feel about Paley's protection of "Gunsmoke" pretty much depends upon how you feel about knowing there could have been a fourth season of "Gilligan's Island." PAD

  • June 5, 2011, 3:33 a.m. CST

    I didn't say I don't believe in an afterlife.

    by Righteous Brother

    I said I don't believe in Heaven. I don't believe that there's a place up there, where all the good people go after death. Is James Arness up there? Are Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain all jamming together in some supergroup? Are bad people in Heaven or only the good ones? If so what rules should we be adherring to, make sure we get in. Because if its the ten commandments then we're all fucked. Are cavemen in Heaven? If not, why not? Do Muslims get to go to the same heaven as christians? Are still born babies in heaven? Are there toddlers running around heaven? If so who's taking care of them? Do pets get to go to Heaven? I'm sorry but I just don't buy it. That is my view point, I don't care if people aren't with me on that - but there's no need for name calling is there? What I said earlier was insensitive on a obituary talkback, so I apologise for that. When I think of the amount of people that have died (and continue to die even in this day and age) or have lead a life of suffering because they've been promised that there's a heavenly paradise they'll go to after they've passed on - it makes me angry. As to what happens when we die, nobody knows for certain.

  • June 5, 2011, 5:14 a.m. CST

    RIP and god bless

    by BuffyFaithtribyeah

    RIP Marshal Dillon, say whats up to your homeboy Festus for us and keep heaven safe. Thanks

  • June 5, 2011, 6:20 a.m. CST

    James Arness died years ago

    by malificus

    Of lung cancer as I remember it, in the other dimension I came from.

  • to thank Gawd there was no fourth season of "Gilligan's Island."

  • June 5, 2011, 9:15 a.m. CST

    Oh, that's a sad thought.

    by Subtitles_Off

    GUNSMOKE: THE MOVIE. Tom Hardy's fake American accent as "Marshall." With Johnny Depp as "Festus." Blake Lively is "Miss Kitty." Will Smiff as "Chester." In 3D and IMAX, also in Digital 2-D at select theaters.

  • June 5, 2011, 9:28 a.m. CST

    I remember "McClain's Law"...

    by MrMysteryGuest

    It didn't last too long, but I remember the show had a really cool theme song and I watched a few episodes on Fridays. AND I was 10 years old at the time!

  • June 5, 2011, 9:41 a.m. CST

    I dunno

    by Peter David

    Perhaps if "Gilligan's Island" had continued, Mary Ann and Ginger would have given in to the obvious repressed feelings they had for each other... Nah. Probably not. PAD

  • June 5, 2011, 9:49 a.m. CST

    I dunno, either, but I think TV isn't ready for that, STILL, Peter.

    by Subtitles_Off

    Maybe premium pay-cable. And, once they'd cracked that coconut, would they have taken it even farther? "Lovey, c'mere, you sexy wrinkled, thing, you."

  • June 5, 2011, 11:07 a.m. CST

    Hard to Believe

    by TinkerTIW

    I always found it hard to believe that the title character from my favorite movie (TTFAW) was the same guy who played Marshall Dillon. RIP, big fella.

  • June 5, 2011, 11:55 a.m. CST

    Funny, I thought he died 20 years ago.

    by ProziumJunkie

  • June 5, 2011, 12:26 p.m. CST


    by thecheesegrommit

    RIP Mr. Arness.

  • June 5, 2011, 1 p.m. CST

    thanks peter

    by john

    i personally think the purge itself was wrong headed...and that it was proven to be by syndication numbers but i didnt know that was the reason gunsmoke made it through i would still love to see an analysis of how they ever came up with the whole 18-49 demo

  • June 5, 2011, 1:23 p.m. CST


    by Dark Doom

    A WW II Vet, a man's man. Class act all the way. Ride off into the sunset dude.

  • After 20 years of Gunsmoke when Matt Dillon made is debut in Over The Edge in 1979 he may as well have been named James Bond.

  • June 5, 2011, 3:16 p.m. CST

    'Justified' is the new 'Gunsmoke'

    by SmokingRobot

    Hey, it's about a U.S. Marshall who shoots people.

  • June 5, 2011, 3:41 p.m. CST

    How the West Was Won

    by JoeSweden

    I guess it wasn't a hit in the States as it isn't mentioned in the obits but it was HUGE in Scandinavia, Sweden especially. Everybody knew Arness' Zeb Macahan, girls swooned over Bruce Boxleitners' starmaking turn as Luke and Duane Loken (Wolf Paw) became a teen idol with music performances touring in Scandinavia. James Arness also had Norwegian roots so that was mentioned a lot in the papers. If you haven't seen Arness in HtWWW/The Macahans you should seek it out. Don't know if it's available on DVD in the US, but 4 seasons are available in Scandinavia on pal DVD, quality is OK but not great as they are taken from the tv masters. Hope someone in the US will release it maybe doing a remaster.

  • June 5, 2011, 4:38 p.m. CST

    That's too bad.

    by Val Verde Historian

    James Arness/Marshal Dillon was the reason my old man became a U.S. Marshal. He will be missed.

  • June 5, 2011, 8:14 p.m. CST

    As I recall, he towered over John Wayne in Big Jim McClain.

    by vic twenty

    He had to slump over when walking in exterior shots so as to not dwarf "Big Jim". RIP big fella.

  • June 5, 2011, 8:28 p.m. CST

    When Hollywood stars were war heroes, instead of...

    by Taillefer

    ...war protestors. RIP, soldier.

  • June 6, 2011, 1:01 p.m. CST


    by veritasses


  • June 6, 2011, 3:01 p.m. CST

    by How2fish

    I meet him at a function in Knoxville Tn, in the late 50's very nice guy..RIP !

  • June 6, 2011, 3:08 p.m. CST

    by How2fish

    I meet him in the early 60's at a function in Knoxville Tn, very nice guy..gave me his autograph..RIP.

  • June 6, 2011, 3:09 p.m. CST

    R.I.P. James Arness

    by kname2

    The opening sequence of Gunsmoke is something I"ll always recall from my youth. Arness always came across as a decent human being in the few interviews I saw with him. Always a class act unlike so many of the "actors" served up by Hollyweird these days. Yet another quality actor from days gone by that made you believe he was the character vs. someone showing up for an oversized and undeserved paycheck.

  • June 6, 2011, 9:56 p.m. CST


    by SA_Rhyno

    I seriously teared up when I heard the news. There was no one I wanted to be more when I was little than Matt Dillon. God bless you James Arness, a true hero in every sense of the word.

  • June 7, 2011, 8:47 p.m. CST

    When I was a kid

    by proevad

    We didn't have cable until I turned 11 i think. Gunsmoke was about the only thing there was to watch--that and Hee Haw. I read a lot.