dead at 81
Monday, February 27, 2006; Posted: 8:34 p.m. EST
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Dennis Weaver,
the slow-witted deputy Chester Goode in the TV
classic western "Gunsmoke" and the New Mexico
deputy solving New York crime in "McCloud," has
died. The actor was 81.
Weaver died of
complications from cancer Friday at his home in
Ridgway, in southwestern Colorado, his publicist
Julian Myers said. Weaver was a
Dennis Weaver worked for nine seasons on the
classic western "Gunsmoke."
struggling actor in Hollywood in 1955,
earning $60 a week delivering flowers when he was offered $300 a
week for a role in a new CBS television series, "Gunsmoke." By the
end of his nine years with "Gunsmoke," he was earning $9,000 a week.
When Weaver first auditioned for the series, he found the character
of Chester "inane." He wrote in his 2001 autobiography, "All the
World's a Stage," that he said to himself: "With all my Actors
Studio training, I'll correct this character by using my own
experiences and drawing from myself."
The result was a well-rounded character that appealed to audiences,
especially with his drawling, "Mis-ter Dil-lon."
At the end of seven hit seasons, Weaver sought other horizons. He
announced his departure, but the failures of pilots for his own
series caused him to return to "Gunsmoke" on a limited basis for two
more years. The role brought him an Emmy in the 1958-59 season.
In 1966, Weaver starred with a 600-pound black bear in "Gentle Ben,"
about a family that adopts a bear as a pet. The series was
well-received, but after two seasons, CBS decided it needed more
adult entertainment and cancelled it.
Next came the character Sam McCloud, which Weaver called "the most
satisfying role of my career."
The "McCloud" series, 1970-1977, juxtaposed a no-nonsense lawman
from Taos, New Mexico, onto the crime-ridden streets of New York
City. His wild-west tactics, such as riding his horse through
Manhattan traffic, drove local policemen crazy, but he always solved
He appeared in several movies, including "Touch of Evil," "Ten
Wanted Men," "Gentle Giant," "Seven Angry Men," "Dragnet," "Way ...
Way Out" and "The Bridges at Toko-Ri."
Weaver also was an activist for protecting the environment and
combating world hunger.
He served as president of Love Is Feeding Everyone (LIFE), which fed
150,000 needy people a week in Los Angeles County. He founded the
Institute of Ecolonomics, which sought solutions to economic and
environmental problems. He spoke at the United Nations and Congress,
as well as to college students and school children about fighting
pollution and starvation.
"Earthship" was the most visible of Weaver's crusades. He and his
wife Gerry built a solar-powered Colorado home out of recycled tires
and cans. The thick walls helped keep the inside temperature even
"When the garbage man comes," Jay Leno once quipped, "how does he
know where the garbage begins and the house ends?"
Weaver responded: "If we get into the mindset of saving rather than
wasting and utilizing other materials, we can save the Earth."
The tall, slender actor came by his Midwestern twang naturally. He
was born June 4, 1924, in Joplin, Missouri, where he excelled in
high school drama and athletics. After Navy service in World War II,
he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma and qualified for the
He studied at the Actors Studio in New York and appeared in "A
Streetcar Named Desire" opposite Shelley Winters and toured in "Come
Back, Little Sheba" with Shirley Booth.
Universal Studio signed Weaver to a contract in 1952 but found
little work for him. He freelanced in features and television until
he landed "Gunsmoke."
Weaver appeared in dozens of TV movies, the most notable being the
1971 "Duel." It was a bravura performance for both fledgling
director Steven Spielberg and Weaver, who played a driver menaced by
a large truck that followed him down a mountain road. The film was
released in theaters in 1983, after Spielberg had become director of
Weaver's other TV series include "Kentucky Jones," "Emerald Point
N.A.S.," "Stone" and "Buck James." From 1973 to 1975, he served as
president of the Screen Actors Guild.
Weaver is survived by his wife; sons Rick, Robby and Rusty; and
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