Gunsmoke is one of the longest-running scripted series in television history. So it’s no understatement to call it one of the most beloved TV series of all time. The show was a television institution like few others. In fact, only a handful of other shows – including reigning champ, The Simpsons – have lasted longer. But are any of the principal cast of Gunsmoke still alive?
Some fans might not realize it, but Gunsmoke actually began as a radio series in 1951. In that version, actor William Conrad played the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon. But it didn’t take long for Gunsmoke to transition into the burgeoning TV business. The TV show – with James Arness as Dillon – started in 1955 on CBS and ran for a full 20 years, switching from black and white to color midway through its run. It even spawned a pair of reunion TV movies in 1987 and 1990.
In addition to Arness, Gunsmoke starred Milburn Stone as Galen “Doc” Adams and Amanda Blake as Kathleen “Kitty” Russell for nearly its entire run. Dennis Weaver vacated his role as Chester B. Goode in 1964. And Ken Curtis joined the show as Festus Haggen the same year, staying until the series concluded. Countless other stars – including Glenn Strange and Burt Reynolds – joined the show later on, though neither stayed until Gunsmoke wrapped.
Of course, nearly 50 years have passed since Gunsmoke concluded. So most of the main cast has died some time since the show’s ending. In fact, the only main cast member who is still alive is Buck Taylor, who played gunsmith and deputy marshal Newly O’Brian from 1967 until 1975. Born in 1938, the actor is currently in his 80s and is remarkably still working in Hollywood.
In recent years, Taylor even returned to the Western genre. In 2018, he joined the cast of the Paramount+ series Yellowstone as Emmett Walsh. That show stars Kevin Costner as John Dutton III, owner/operator of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. Taylor appeared in eight episodes of Yellowstone from 2018 to 2022, when he left the show.
While Taylor might still be with us, the rest of his Gunsmoke co-stars have seemingly moved on to that great cattle ranch in the sky. Arness died at age 88 in 2011 due to natural causes. Stone was age 75 when he died in 1980 of a heart attack. Blake was only 60 when she died in 1989.
While her death was initially reported to have been caused by liver failure brought on by viral hepatitis, it was later reported by The New York Times and other media outlets that she had died of AIDS. Weaver and Curtis, meanwhile, died in 2006 and 1991 of prostate cancer and a heart attack, respectively.
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