Matt Dillon now lives on only in legend. No, not Matt Dillon the one time teen idol, but Marshal Matt Dillon, that tall, quiet but tough lawman who kept the western town of Dodge safe for its citizens. Sadly, the veteran actor who brought Marshal Dillon to life has passed on. James Arness died June 3, 2011 at the age of 88 from natural causes.
Introduced to TV audiences as Dillon by the legendary John Wayne, Arness' towering demeanor (he was 6'7" tall) quickly won over fans and made the TV series Gunsmoke one of television's all time best programs, not to mention one of the longest running. The CBS show hung around for 20 seasons.
Stated Wayne to those watching the first episode of Gunsmoke in 1955, "I knew there was only one man to play in it, James Arness. He's a young fella and may be 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've had to get used to me."
Decorated with the Bronze Star for action in World War II, Arness was the older brother of Peter Graves, who starred in Mission: Impossible and passed away last year. Both brothers have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Arness' last roles were of Matt Dillon, courtesy of four made-for-TV movies made from 1990 to 1994. An earlier one was made in 1987. After Gunsmoke, he starred in How the West Was Won, a TV series spun off from a mini-series of the same name which itself was a continuation of a 1976 movie called The Macahans.
His last years were spent quietly outside of the limelight. Reportedly, he said he'd just become too tired and lacked the stamina to act anymore. He leaves behind his wife, two sons, and six grandchildren.