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Gunsmoke's James Arness: Five Reasons He Was a Legend

Few TV stars have been bigger than the 6-foot-7 James Arness.
/ Source: E!online

Few TV stars have been bigger than the 6-foot-7 James Arness.

Arness, who died today at age 88 from what were termed natural causes, was a legend from the beginning to the end.

A look back at why:

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1. He Was a Fixture: From 1955-1975, from the Eisenhower White House to the disco era, Arness patrolled Dodge City as U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. In the history of TV, only The Simpsons has enjoyed a longer prime-time run for a scripted series. Even after all these years, no prime-time drama (or comedy) has ever produced more episodes: a mammoth 635.

2. Just Maybe, He Was the Fixture: Gunsmoke TV-movies continued to be produced into the 1980s and 1990s, making the Western, as Arness once boasted, "the only TV series that has appeared in five consecutive decades."

3. He Filled John Wayne's Boots: When the role of Marhsall Dillon was offered to Hollywood's leading cowboy, Wayne declined, and recommended his 32-year-old proteg and costar from Hondo, Big Jim McClain and more.

4. He Battled an Iconic Monster: Arness' film credits included the Howard Hawks-produced The Thing From Another World, the ice-bound, 1951 sci-fi/horror classic that spawned John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing (which itself spawned a prequel due out in the fall).

5. He Was a Class Act: The native Minnesotan and World War II vet, the older brother of Mission: Impossible and Airplane! star Peter Graves, who passed away last year, left a letter for his fans to be posted on his Website upon his death. "I had a wonderful life and was blessed with some many loving people and great friends," he wrote. "The best part of my life was my family, especially my wife Janet."

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