James Arness, Star of Gunsmoke, Dies at 88

06/03/2011 at 01:55 PM EDT

James Arness, Star of Gunsmoke, Dies at 88
James Arness
James Arness, the strapping Western star who played Marshal Matt Dillon in TV's long-running Gunsmoke, died Friday at age 88.

The actor, who also appeared in more than 30 films, died of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles, family spokesman Ginny Fazer tells the Los Angeles Times.

A Minnesota native and brother of Mission: Impossible star Peter Graves, Arness was a World War II combat veteran. He originally wanted to be a naval fighter pilot, but his 6-foot-7 frame exceeded the 6-foot-2 limit for the cockpit.

After working as a radio announcer in Minnesota, he moved to Los Angeles and got his acting break in 1947 in The Farmer's Daughter with Loretta Young.

He befriended John Wayne, who helped him get the role in Gunsmoke after Wayne turned down the part.

Gunsmoke debuted in 1955, ran for 20 years and inspired five TV movies.

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