Tucson remembers TV western star, James Arness, 1923-2011

Published: Jun. 3, 2011 at 10:50 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 at 5:29 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - Southern Arizonans are among those mourning the loss of actor James Arness, who starred in the long-running TV western series "Gunsmoke."

Arness died Friday of natural causes at his home in Brentwood, California. He was 88.

"He was a gentleman, and he was a professional," said Bob Shelton, founder of Old Tucson Studios. "And I just liked him as a person."

Shelton says he got to know Arness while working on a documentary about U.S. Marshals,  which was filmed in Tucson.

"(Arness) was the star of the documentary," Shelton said. "And it was a big production. Most of it was filmed at Old Tucson Studios, and also out on ranches and things."

The two had exchanged Christmas cards and a few phone calls over the years, and Shelton remembers Arness as enjoying his time working in Tucson.

"Well, he liked Tucson because it was very western," Shelton said. "He always spoke well of Arizona, and he was supportive of the state in terms of this being a film location."

Arness' most famous career role was that of Marshal Matt Dillon in the landmark television drama "Gunsmoke." The series even filmed a few episodes at Old Tucson Studios, bringing Arness to the Arizona desert a few times to work on scenes.

"He was tall and had a big booming voice. Jim was the quintessential image of the old western sheriff, and he looked the part," Shelton shared. "He was sort of another John Wayne. In fact, John Wayne was very fond of him, and helped his career along."

For Shelton, news of Arness' passing means he's not only lost an old industry friend, but the industry itself has lost a legend.

"I'm just sad that another great icon of the old west is gone," he said. "But he left behind a great legacy of a gentleman and a well-thought-of professional."

Copyright 2011 KOLD. All rights reserved.