Gunsmoke's Dennis Weaver dies at age 81

By Colin Mahan

Feb 27, 2006

Dennis Weaver, best known for his role as Chester on the long-running TV western Gunsmoke, succumbed Friday to cancer at his ranch in Colorado. He was 81.

Weaver was born in 1924, in Joplin, Missouri. He married his high school sweetheart, Gerry Stowell, in 1945. He was a track star in his college years and placed sixth in the decathlon tryouts for the 1948 Olympics.

He began acting in the early 1950s, and in 1955, he got a role that would assure him a place in TV history: the limping, goofy character of Chester in the classic western series Gunsmoke. Weaver said he almost didn't get the part but asked the producers if he could audition a second time; when he read the part with a humorous, country accent, he won it. Weaver, who stood 6 feet, 2 inches, feared he would be overshadowed when he was onscreen with series-star James Arness, who towered at 6 feet, 9 inches. Weaver's solution was to give Chester a noticeable limp.

Weaver left Gunsmoke after nine years and went on to further success in films and TV, such as Steven Spielberg's classic road-rage thriller Duel, and the detective series McCloud, which ran for seven years. Weaver won two Emmys for his portrayal of McCloud, the ranger from New Mexico who chases crooks to the Big Apple and iconically rides a horse through Manhattan streets. During his time on the show McCloud, Weaver was elected president of the Screen Actor's Guild for several years.

In his personal life, Weaver was a vegetarian and committed environmental activist. He built a 10,000-square-foot, environmentally friendly home in Colorado, called Earthship; made of predominantly recycled material such as tires and aluminum cans, it harnesses solar power for electricity.

Weaver is survived by his wife, three children, and several grandchildren.

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  • ROADKING64 Sep 27, 2010

    IM A HUGE FAN OF GUNSMOKE AND REMEMBER CHESTER B 4 HE LIMPED AND WORE 2 GUNS . AM I OUT OF MY MIND OR WHERE R THESE OLD EPOSIDES WITH CHESTER AND HIS 2 GUNS AND NO LIMP . IM SURE HE STARTED OUT THAT WAY ON THE SERIES . IF IM CRAZY AND DREAMING THIS , PLEASE LET ME KNOW

    ITS DRIVING ME CRAZY TRYING 2 FIND THESE OLD EPISODES !!

  • guano77 Mar 01, 2006

    It's a sad day. I wasn't born when Weaver was on gunsomke, but him as mccloud was na tv staple of my youth.

  • tvking3333 Feb 28, 2006

    Anthor old actor taken from us. All the good old actors are pasing on.

  • pwade0102 Feb 27, 2006

    Will miss the Grampa from Wildfire. Henry will be missed. Dennis Weaver rest in pease.

  • Harlann Feb 27, 2006

    See ya around McCloud....

  • Mad_Buck Feb 27, 2006

    First the Chief and now McCloud. Guess Joe Broadhurst is the only one left now. RIP Dennis Weaver.