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07 Jun 2011

James Arness, the actor best known for playing lawman Matt Dillon in long-running western TV show Gunsmoke, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 88.

The star, who played the Dodge City marshal from 1955 to 1975, died from natural causes at his home on Friday.

He also played the title role in sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World.

"I had a wonderful life and was blessed with some many loving people and great friends," he wrote in a letter posted posthumously on his official website.

"I had the privilege of working with so many great actors over the years."

Born James King Aurness in Minneapolis in 1923, Arness was the older brother of Airplane! star Peter Graves.

Drafted into the US Army during his first year in college, he was wounded in the leg during the 1944 invasion at Anzio, Italy and awarded the Purple Heart.

Moving to Hollywood after World War II, he had parts in scores of films before winning his Gunsmoke role, which he landed after John Wayne turned it down.

His 20-year run as Marshal Dillon remains one of the longest runs by an actor in playing the same character in a US series.

Prior to Law and Order, Gunsmoke was the longest-running dramatic series in US network history.

In a statement, CBS, who produced the show, said Arness would "always be remembered as one of the biggest stars in the history of television".

Arness - who stood 6 ft 7 in (2m) tall - is survived by his second wife Janet, two sons and six grandchildren.

His first wife Virginia and their daughter Jenny both died of drug overdoses, two years apart.


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