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James Arness dies at 88; TV's Marshal Dillon on landmark 'Gunsmoke' series

Jun 3, 2011 2:55:00 PM - thestate.com
LOS ANGELES - James Arness, the towering actor best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon, the strong and commanding symbol of frontier justice on the landmark TV Western series "Gunsmoke," died Friday. He was 88.

Arness died of natural causes at his home in Brentwood, said family spokesperson Ginny Fazer.

"Gunsmoke" debuted on CBS on Sept. 10, 1955, and, with the start of "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" on ABC four days earlier, a new era in television horse operas was launched: the adult Western.

But whereas "Wyatt Earp," starring Hugh O'Brian, ended its run in 1961, "Gunsmoke" ran until 1975, far outdistancing its many competitors and becoming one of the longest-running prime-time series in network TV history.

In the process, Arness became one of television's most enduring stars, returning as Dillon in a handful of "Gunsmoke" TV movies in the late '80s and early '90s.

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