1924 - 2006
Dennis Weaver became a household name back in the 1950s and 1960s on both sides of the Atlantic for playing the loyal deputy to Marshall Matt Dillon on US TV's 'Gunsmoke.'
Born in Missouri on 4th June 1924, Weaver served with American forces in World War II before becoming an actor whose career would span 50 years. After studying at the University of Oklahoma - where he narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Olympic decathlon - Weaver went to the Actors Studio in New York, landing roles in a number of stage plays. He appeared in 'A Streetcar Named Desire,' opposite Shelley Winters, and toured in 'Come Back, Little Sheba' with Shirley Booth before (in 1952) switching his attention to film after signing a deal with Universal Studios. But Universal only managed to give him a handful of roles over the next three years and Weaver was forced to take a job as a flower deliveryman to supplement his TV freelance work. But he got the break he needed in 1955 after an early appearance in an episode of the classic TV series 'Dragnet' when he was offered the part of Deputy Chester Goode in 'Gunsmoke,' opposite James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon.
At first Weaver considered his role "inane", but his slow-drawling character with a limp gave him a memorable on-screen presence and the role, which he played until 1964, earned him an Emmy award in the late 1950s. More TV series followed 'Gunsmoke,' including 'Gentle Ben' in the mid-1960s, 'Kentucky Jones,' 'Emerald Point NAS,' 'Stone and Buck James.' He also starred in Steven Spielberg's memorable 1971 made-for-tv movie 'Duel' as a motorist terrorised by a psychopathic truck driver.
Weaver's most personally satisfying role came in 1977 when he was cast as (Sam) 'McCloud' - a New Mexico policeman on the streets of New York with a horse, a cowboy hat and a sheepskin coat. The series was based on Clint Eastwood's 1968 movie 'Coogan's Bluff.' Off-screen, Weaver served as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and was a committed vegetarian and environmentalist, working actively for charitable causes. He was president of Love Is Feeding Everyone - a food scheme that fed 150,000 needy people from the Los Angeles area every week. And in 1993, he founded Institute of Ecolonomics, which sought solutions to economic and environmental problems. Weaver believed passionately in promoting the economic growth of all cultures while using sustainable natural resources. He spoke at the United Nations, the US government, university students and school children about fighting pollution. He cared pationately about his causes and lived by example by building a solar-powered home in Colorado - nicknamed Earthship - out of recycled tyres and cans where he and his wife lived since 1989.
In 2002 appeared in an episode of 'The Simpsons.' Weaver continued acting until 2005 making his final starring role as the eccentric owner of a thoroughbred racing ranch in five episodes of 'Wildfire.' "His performance never ceased to dazzle us," a statement from the ABC network, which broadcasts 'Wildfire', said. "He was an American legend not only for his contribution to the acting community but for his extensive and inspirational environmental work." Weaver died in Colorado on 24th February 2006 from complications of cancer. He was survived by his wife and three sons. "He was a wonderful man and a fine actor, and we will all miss him," said former 'Gunsmoke' co-star Burt Reynolds.
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