‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Was an Avid Outdoorsman in Real Life

by Taylor Cunningham

It turns out that James Arness kept himself svelte for Gunsmoke by living an active lifestyle.

According to a November 1961 interview with the legendary towering cowboy, Arness admitted that he went to great lengths to take care of himself, which of course, paid off in the long run. He lived to be 88 years old. And he was lucky enough to have never suffered from any major health problems throughout his long life.

To stay in shape, James Arness focused on both health and fitness. In fact, during the interview, the actor was snacking on Scandanavian health bread while swallowing handfuls of supplements. Though, he admitted he wasn’t happy about his nutritious diet. And he credited fellow Gunsmoke co-star Dennis Weaver for the healthy inspiration.

And while James Arness took care of himself for the cameras, he also did it so he could keep up with his other healthy habit—being an avid outdoorsman. Because living an active lifestyle was his one true passion.

“Sure,’ I take pride in turning out quality shows. I like acting,” he told TV Guide. “But I like, other things sailing, skiing, surfing. When I’m in my 5O’s, say, I just don’t want to be concerned with ‘big deals’
and other Hollywood jazz.”

Arness followed through with his goal, too. Shortly before he turned 60, he hung up his hat and retired from his career in TV series. Then, throughout the rest of his life, he only showed up in a handful of made-for-TV movies based on his classic Matt Dillon character.

‘Gunsmoke’ Cowboy James Arness Once Wrote About His Love of Horses

In a 1958 piece titled No Trick Horses For Me, Gunsmoke star James Arness wrote about riding horses and what the animals meant for cowboys.

As Arness shared in the article, his love for horses began when he showed the animals as a child. And he said that he and all children from his era truly believed that the hooved giants were the true “premise” of being a real-life cowboy. And trick horses were the most coveted cowboy asset of all.

“The kids all believed implicitly in the premise that a cowboy who owned a trick horse would go on being a cowboy for $60 a month,” James Arness wrote. “Just for the sheer love of being a cowboy.”

The actor even had the chance to work with a trick horse when he was a kid. And that particular animal made a lasting impression on Arness

“I often thought about this horse in later years whenever I saw movie cowboys with their big beautiful horses,” he recalled.

Then, James Arness went on to gush over his experience with the highly trained animals on the set of Gunsmoke. He was truly fascinated by how smart the horses were. They united knots and helped the fictional cowboys evade danger.

But, the horses weren’t as smart as James Arness once imagined.

“But not quite,” the actor adds. “They weren’t smart enough to earn a living without letting somebody ride on them.”