According to a family spokesperson, Arness died of natural causes at his home in Brentwood, Calif. He was 88.
At 6-feet-7-inches, Arness' height helped him convey the gravitas of the show's Dodge City lawman, a role that earned him three Emmy nominations. But the Gunsmoke gig almost didn't happen. Arness was then under contract to a production company owned by John Wayne. After nabbing the role as Dillon, Arness nearly turned down the job until Wayne urged him otherwise.
"I knew there was only one man to play in it, James Arness," Wayne told viewers in a televised spot that aired just before Gunsmoke's debut. "He's a young fella and may be new to some of you. But I've worked with him, and I predict he'll be a big star. So you might as well get used to him, like you've had to get used to me."
Gunsmoke was one of the longest running primetime television series in history, airing from 1955-1975.