Actor James Arness, best known for playing Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, has died of natural causes. He was 88.
Until it was surpassed by The Simpsons last year, Gunsmoke was the longest running episodic TV show in American history.
Arness got the role on the recommendation of John Wayne, who had been originally offered the role of Matt Dillon. Indeed, Wayne introduced the pilot episode of Gunsmoke in 1955 and said:
When I first heard about the show Gunsmoke I knew there was only one man to play him – James Arness. He’s a young fellow and maybe new to some of you. But I’ve worked with him and I predict he’ll be a big star. So you might as well get used to him, like you had to get used to me.
And boy did the American public ever heed The Duke’s word.
Before Arness became an actor, he served in the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division during WWII as a rifleman and was wounded in Italy, earning him a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal.