Actor-Activist Dennis Weaver Dies
Gunsmoke, McCloud and More
Ridgeway, CO – Dennis Weaver, the veteran actor best known for his roles in the popular Western-themed television series Gunsmoke and McCloud, died Friday at his home in Ridgway, Colorado. Weaver, who was 81, had been battling cancer.
Born June 4, 1924, in Joplin, Missouri, Weaver, the son of an electrician, was an avid participant in high school theater, and excelled in sports. During World War II he served in the Navy, after which he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma and qualified for the Olympic decathlon.
He then moved to New York City, where he studied at the Actors Studio and appeared in numerous stage productions, including A Streetcar Named Desire with Shelley Winters and Come Back, Little Sheba with Shirley Booth.
Weaver was signed to a contract by Universal Studio in 1952, but did not break through with the public until 1955, when he was cast as Chester Goode, Deputy to James Arness’ Sheriff Matt Dillon in the TV series Gunsmoke. By the time he left the show after nine years, having won an Emmy in the 1958-’59 season, his anonymity was long since a thing of the past.
In 1966, Weaver starred in the drama series Gentle Ben, the story of a family that adopts a bear as a pet. Four years later came McCloud, in which he struck upon the most satisfying role of his career—Sam McCloud, a New Mexico lawman transferred to New York City, where his cowboy hat, horseback-riding and other Western tropes were consistently at odds with big-city crime-fighting techniques. He received two Emmy nominations for his performance.
Weaver’s other TV series included Kentucky Jones, Emerald Point N.A.S., Stone and Buck James. His notable miniseries work included Centennial and Pearl. He later garnered acclaim for Lonesome Dove: The Series, in which he played Buffalo Bill Cody
He also starred in dozens of TV movies, including one of the most celebrated ever, Duel, directed by a young Steven Spielberg. The film, a harrowing suspense drama about a motorist who is chased by an unseen truck driver down a perilous mountain road, was so effective that it also received a theatrical release after Spielberg achieved fame as director of such films as Jaws.
Weaver’s feature films include Touch of Evil, Ten Wanted Men, Gentle Giant, Seven Angry Men and The Bridges at Toko-Ri.
Off-screen, Weaver served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1973-75. He was also a passionate activist for protecting the environment and eradicating world hunger.
As president of Love Is Feeding Everyone (LIFE), he led an organization that fed 150,000 needy Los Angeles County residents each week. He also founded the Institute of Ecolonomics, which sought solutions to economic and environmental problems.
His advocacy on behalf of the environment led to the establishment of “Earthship,” the solar-powered Colorado residence Weaver and his wife Gerry constructed using recycled tires and cans.
Weaver is survived by his wife, three sons and three grandchildren.
On September 4, 2002, Weaver was interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television (AAT). The entire interview is currently available on Google Video.