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Legendary TV Cowboy And World War II Hero James Arness Dies At Age 88

June 3rd, 2011 4:22pm EDT

James Arness

Legendary TV cowboy James Arness has died, aged 88.

The actor played Marshall Matt Dillon in beloved TV western series Gunsmoke.
 
The Minnesota-born World War II hero was the older brother of actor Peter Graves, who encouraged Arness to seek out a career in showbusiness after he was discharged from the army with leg and foot injuries sustained in battle.
 
He became an announcer at a Minneapolis radio station and later found fame in Hollywood after following a friend out to Los Angeles to find work in the movies.
 
He was studying theatre when he was cast as Loretta Young's brother in 1947 film The Farmer's Daughter.
 
His first wife, actress Virginia Chapman, encouraged him to take his acting more seriously after he received glowing reviews for his performance in his debut and he became a staple villain in films like The Thing from Another World (1951).
 
Arness' career really took off when he was discovered by John Wayne's agent Charles K. Feldman, and the two TV and movie cowboys became firm friends. Arness starred alongside Wayne, his mentor, in a series of 1950s films and it was the acting legend who recommended his pal for the role of Dillon in Gunsmoke, which became America's longest-running dramatic series.
 
When the show was cancelled in 1975, Arness joined the cast of TV miniseries How The West Was Won and then turned leading man again in cop drama McClain's Law in the early 1980s.
 
He retired from showbusiness in the mid-1990s, after appearing in the final Gunsmoke TV movie.
He and his first wife had three kids together - one daughter, Jenny Lee, committed suicide in 1975. Arness divorced Chapman in 1960. He wed Janet Surtrees in 1978.
 
Among his many accolades, Arness was appointed an honorary United States Marshall in recognition of his unique contribution to "the image and traditions of the U.S. Marshall's Service". He was also inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1981.
 
He also received the Bronze Star; the Purple Heart, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge for his army service during World War Two.
 
Flowers will be placed on the actor's Hollywood Walk of Fame star on Friday afternoon.

Photo Credits: WENN