Happy Birthday Dennis Weaver: Remembering the ‘Gunsmoke’ Star

by Keeli Parkey

The actor who played Marshal Matt Dillon’s right-hand man on “Gunsmoke” was born on this day (June 4). That actor, of course, was Dennis Weaver.

He played Chester Goode on the famous Western television series. But, he was so much more than his character on “Gunsmoke.” According to IMDb.com, Weaver was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1924. His given name at birth was William Dennis Weaver.

As a young man, Weaver excelled at athletics. In fact, according to MeTV.com, he was such a good athlete that he almost became an Olympian in 1948. As a high school student, Weaver was a stand-out football player at Joplin High School.

He began his college career at Joplin Junior College where he played basketball. He then moved on to the University of Oklahoma where he excelled as a member of the track team. In 1948, he had the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Trials in the decathlon. He finished in sixth place. Unfortunately, to compete in the London games that year, Weaver needed to finish in the top three in his event.

Weaver was also a veteran and served during World War II. He was in the United States Navy and served as a fighter pilot.

Dennis Weaver Made Film Debut in 1952

With his sports and military careers behind him, Dennis Weaver then turned to acting. He chose to study acting at the Actor’s Studio in New York. It was there that he met Shelley Winters. It was this actress who helped Weaver with his film career.

Before he starred in films, Weaver acted on Broadway in “Come Back, Little Sheba.” He also acted in plays by the famous playwright Tennessee Williams off-Broadway.

Finally, in 1952, Dennis Weaver appeared in his first movie. It was a Western titled “Horizons West.” What followed for the actor were small roles in other Western films.

He also worked odd jobs, like many other actors do before he landed the role of Chester Goode on “Gunsmoke.” Weaver’s odd jobs included selling pantyhose and delivering flowers. He reportedly made $60 per week. Once he landed the role on “Gunsmoke,” he began making $300 a week.

Dennis Weaver’s tenure on “Gunsmoke” began in 1955. He appeared in 290 episodes of the popular series until he left the show in 1964.

After ‘Gunsmoke,’ Weaver Continued to Act

When his time on “Gunsmoke” came to an end, Dennis Weaver’s acting career kept going. He even starred in the first film directed by Steven Spielberg. That film was “Duel” and it was released in 1971. Spielberg reportedly cast Weaver in the film because he respected the actor’s work in the film “Touch of Evil.”

“Duel” wasn’t the only job of Weaver’s post-“Gunsmoke” career. He also acted in “McCloud” on television, among other roles.

Here’s another interesting tidbit about Weaver – he lived in a home that was made out of used automobile tires and cans. It was designed by Michael Reynolds and was one of his “Earthships.” Weaver’s home was one of only 1,000 of such homes built across the world.

Dennis Weaver passed away from complications related to cancer on Feb. 24, 2006, in Ridgway, Colorado. He was 81 years old at the time of his death.

Interestingly, another classic television star died on the very same day. That star was Don Knotts, who became famous thanks to his role as Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Knotts was also 81 years old at the time of his death.