One of Hollywood's greatest sheriffs, James Arness, died today of natural causes at his home, the Los Angeles Times reports. At 6-foot-7, Arness dominated TV screens as Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, which ran from 1955 to 1975 and defined the TV Western. Arness had been wary about taking a TV role because he was afraid of losing his chance to be in movies. It was John Wayne who pushed Arness to become Marshal Dillon and who introduced him to the show's viewers: I knew there was only one man to play in it," said Wayne. "I've worked with him, and I predict he'll be a big star."
Arness was born in Minneapolis in 1923, three years prior to his brother actor, the late Peter Graves. He got drafted by the Army and served in World War II but was honorably discharged after an encounter with a German machine gun nest left him seriously injured, with one leg a little shorter than the other. Back in the US, he eventually studied acting under the GI bill. He is survived by his second wife, Janet, and two sons. (Read more Gunsmoke stories.)