Actor James Arness dead at 88

United Press International

Television actor James Arness died Friday of natural causes at his home in Brentwood, Calif., a family spokeswoman said. He was 88.

Arness family representative Ginny Fazer confirmed his death to the Los Angeles Times.


The actor is best known for starring in "Gunsmoke," a TV western that ran on CBS from 1955 to 1975. In it, Arness played the fictional Matt Dillon, the marshal of Dodge City.

His 6-foot-6 frame made him tower over most leading men and for that reason he could not get leading men roles in the few movies he made. His height, however, earned special recognition for years among cult fans for his portrayal of an alien spaceship crash survivor in the 1951 science-fiction drama, "The Thing." Arness' character was seen only at the climax of the picture when he runs amok at a military installation in Alaska where the space ship crashed.

Arness was born James Aurness on May 26, 1923, in Minneapolis. He was the brother of actor Peter Graves.

As a recovering wounded World War II veteran, Arness took up acting in theater groups and supported himself as a real estate and advertising man. He made a screen debut under his real name Aurness in 1947 in "The Farmer's Daughter," but later shortened his name.

His film credits include "Battleground," 1949; "Wagonmaster," 1950; "The People Against O'Hara," 1951; "Carbine Williams," "Big Jim McLain," 1952; "Horizons West," 1952; "Lone Hand," "Hondo," 1953; "Them," "Her Twelve Men," 1954; "Many Rivers to Cross," 1955; "The Sea Chase," 1955; "Flame of the Islands," 1955; "Gun the Man Down," 1956; "The First Traveling Saleslady," 1956, and "Alias Jesse James," 1959.

Arness also starred from 1978 to 1979 in "How the West Was Won" and from 1981 to 1982 in the police drama, "McLain's Law."

Arness married Virginia Chapman in 1948, but they divorced in 1960 and she died in 1976, Wikipedia said. The actor wed Janet Surtees in 1978 and remained married to her until his death. In addition to his second wife, Arness is survived by a son, Rolf. He is predeceased by a second son, Craig, and a daughter, Jenny Lee Aurness.

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