‘Gunsmoke’: Famous Actors Who Got Their Start on the Iconic Series

by Matthew Wilson
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“Gunsmoke” was on the air for 20 years, one of the longest-running TV shows ever. Matt Dillion and the gang met a lot of notable people out in the Old West. Some celebrities even got their starts before going on to bigger things.

Though there were many famous faces, here’s some of the most noticeable celebrities who got their start on the show.

11. Beau Bridges Played Jason

The brother of actor Jeff Bridges, Beau became famous in his own right. Appearing in films like “Norma Rae,” “Greased Lightning,” and “Jerry Maguire,” Bridges actually got his start in sitcoms and westerns. The actor got to hang out with Matt Dillion and the gang in the 1966 episode “My Father’s Guitar.”

Bridges played the character Jason during the episode.

10. Gary Busey Got Kicked in the Face

Since he started in 1967, Gary Busey hasn’t been one to rest on a few good movies. With over 150 films to his credit, Busey would of course make his way to Dodge City. While he had appeared in a few movies by the time he appeared on the show, the actor hadn’t starred in his most popular. For instance, “Predator 2” and “Lethal Weapon” were still a decade away.

Busey would play a man who got kicked in the head by a horse. That fate belonged to his character Harve in the 1977 episode “The Busters.”

9. Richard Dreyfuss Appeared in ‘Gunsmoke’

The actor didn’t need a boat of any shape and size to appear on “Gunsmoke” in 1973. Dreyfuss played a character called Gearshon Gorofsky in the episode “This Golden Land.”

This was two years before the actor would go on to play his most iconic role, Matt Hooper, in the classic thriller “Jaws.” Besides being stalked by killer sharks, Dreyfuss re-teamed with director Steven Spielberg for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He’s also appeared in comedies like “What About, Bob?” in the years since.

8. Leslie Nielsen Portrayed a Gang Leader

The late Leslie Nielsen was one of the leading figures in slapstick comedy. But there was nothing funny about the actor’s appearance on the western. During his early days, the actor showed a range that his later career may have lacked. Nielsen portrayed a gruff, mean gang leader in the episode “Time of the Jackals.”

Fortunately for comedy fans, Nielsen later found his funny bone. The actor would go on to star in “Airplane!,” “The Naked Gun” series, and later appear in the “Scary Movie” franchise.

7. David Carradine Played a Horse Thief

A member of the Carradine Hollywood dynasty, David Carradine got his start on the small screen in guest appearances. Though today he’s remembered for an entirely different genre altogether, Carradine made an appearance on “Gunsmoke” in 1971. He played a horse thief named Clint in the episode “Lavery.”

Just a year later, Carradine would star in the popular “Kung Fu” in which he would use martial arts against villainy. Later in his life, he would portray the titular Bill in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” volumes.

6. Charles Bronson Brought His Usual Intensity to ‘Gunsmoke’

Charles Bronson wasn’t quite a leading man when he appeared on the western. Bronson would go-on to be one of the biggest names of his generation. Bronson played tough and often deadly characters in films such as “Death Wish,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and “The Dirty Dozen.”

The actor brought his signature intensity to “Gunsmoke” when he appeared on the show in 1956. Bronson played a psychopath in the episode “The Killer.” He’d make another appearance two years later in “Lost Rifle.”

5. Before He Was a Director, Ron Howard Appeared in the Western

This may be a bit of a cheat considering little Ronny Howard starred on “The Andy Griffith Show” (and still does in reruns). But Ron Howard made a guest appearance on “Gunsmoke” before starring in the hit series “Happy Days.” Of course, these days Howard is known more for his work behind the camera. “The DaVinci Code,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “Willow” stands out among his extensive catalog of films.

Howard appeared in the episode “Charlie Noon.”

4. Jodie Foster Was a Child Star

Jodie Foster was only a kid at the start of her career when she appeared on “Gunsmoke.” The actress first appeared in the 1969 episode “Roots of Fear.” But she would go on to guest-star on the show two more times in “P.S. Murry Christmas” and “The Predators.”

Foster would go on to make a scene-stealing turn in “Taxi Driver” and go down in pop culture history when she starred in “Silence of the Lambs.”

3. Harrison Ford Played a Cowboy on ‘Gunsmoke’

Before he was Indiana Jones or even Han Solo, Harrison Ford got his start playing cowboy on the TV show western. Proof you can’t keep Ford away, the actor appeared on the show twice in “The Sodbusters” and “Whelan’s Men.”

Just a few years later, Ford would get his big break when he starred as everyone’s favorite smuggler in “Star Wars.” The actor would reprise the role four more times.

2. Kurt Russell Appeared in the Show Twice

Like Jodi Foster, Kurt Russell got his start early in life. The future icon appeared as just a kid in a 1964 episode “Blue Heaven.” Russell would later appear again on the show almost a decade later in “Trail of Bloodshed.”

Known for his trademark sarcasm, the actor would go on to have a very successful career starring in cult classics like “The Thing,” “Escape From New York,” and “Big Trouble in Little China.”

1. Burt Reynolds Starred in ‘Gunsmoke’

Burt Reynolds always stood in a class of his own. And that’s true even with this list. The actor appeared on the show longer than any of his celebrity peers. He was actually one of the stars, appearing as the blacksmith Quint. Though Reynolds only starred on the show three years, he made a memorable turn in the show’s long storied history.

The actor of course would go on to star in “Smokey and the Bandit” as well as a host of other films.

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