Gunsmoke star Dennis Weaver was that rare breed in Hollywood. Heck, he was rare compared to the rest of the country.
He stayed married to Gerry Stowell, the love of his life, for 61 years. They raised three sons together as Weaver became a television favorite, first on Gunsmoke, then as McCloud.
The two met in 1942 at a sock hop at Joplin Junior College in Missouri. Weaver ran track. Stowell was a figure skater, but on roller skates. She wore one of her fancy skating outfits to the dance. Weaver asked her to dance and fell immediately in love.
They married in 1945. Weaver served as a fighter pilot for the Navy. When he came back home, he asked Gerry to marry him at a football game. The proposal and wedding happened on the same day.
“That was the beginning of a grand partnership that has lasted more than fifty years,” Weaver wrote in his autobiography, All the World’s a Stage. “She has truly blessed and enriched my life.”
By 1948, with Gerry by his side, Weaver graduated from the University of Oklahoma. He was a champion decathlete and earned a degree in drama. The couple welcomed their first son, Rick, that eventful year. Weaver also was an Olympic hopeful. But he finished sixth at the 1948 Olympic Trials. That wasn’t good enough to make the team headed to the London Olympics.
His second son, Rob, arrived in 1953. Rusty was born in 1959. Weaver was so normal he coached their little league sports teams. Until he started earning a living as an actor, Weaver delivered flowers. And he sold vacuum cleaners, women’s hosiery and tricycles.
Gunsmoke Helps Weaver Get the Ball Rolling
He stuck around New York after the Olympic Trials and enrolled at the Actors Studio. That’s where he met Shelley Winters. In 1952, Winters helped Weaver land a contract at Universal Studios. He still worked odd jobs as he auditioned for parts. Weaver learned he earned the part of Chester on Gunsmoke when he was delivering flowers.
By 1970, Weaver landed the title role in McCloud. The TV show was inspired by the Clint Eastwood movie Coogan’s Bluff.
He served as president of the Screen Actor’s Guild and also was an activist for environmental causes. His home in Colorado was made of recycled products. He called it “Earthship.”
Gerry, his wife, also was an actress, with roles in shows like Gentle Ben.
Throughout his career, Gerry always was there for Dennis. Weaver used to say she was the real star of the family.
He wrote: “When we truly love someone, we allow them their thoughts, interests, and space. We give each other room to breathe.”
Dennis Weaver died in 2006 on complications from prostate cancer. His dear wife lived another decade, dying at age 90. Her obituary said: “
Though it would be appropriate to pray that Gerry “Rest In Peace,” that is just not her. On the contrary, she, as did Dennis, has found her Eagle and is flying — blissfully soaring, with Him.”