‘Gunsmoke’: This Hollywood Icon Played the Last Character Killed in the Series

by Joe Rutland
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Actor Gary Busey has built up quite a career in TV and movie roles. But you wouldn’t think about him when iconic show “Gunsmoke” comes to mind.

A lot of Hollywood actors found themselves on the long-running CBS western series. Richard Dreyfuss, Bruce Dern, Bette Davis, Angie Dickinson, Harry Dean Stanton, William Shatner, and Robert Culp are on that list.

Busey, though, has the distinction of being the last big-time Hollywood star and character actor being killed on “Gunsmoke.” He was playing Harve, a man who gets kicked in the head by a horse, in the episode called “The Busters,” according to an article on ME.tv.

It’s after getting kicked in the head that Busey dies. He appears in the third-to-last episode in the famed “Gunsmoke” series run.

In recent years, Busey, who famously portrayed rock legend Buddy Holly in “The Buddy Holly Story,” has made headlines more for his personal behavior off-screen.

But he’s tied to one of TV’s legendary shows forever, adding his name to that long list of guest stars on “Gunsmoke.”

John Wayne, William Conrad Also Up For ‘Gunsmoke’ Role

What a run, though, for a show which started out on radio. It was a CBS TV lineup standard for 20 seasons.

William Conrad, who also starred as a private detective in the 1970s CBS show “Cannon,” was the radio voice of Marshal Matt Dillon.

His voice-over also can be heard in the early TV cartoon series “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends.” But Conrad and movie western legend John Wayne were considered for the Dillon role on “Gunsmoke.” Ultimately, the role went to actor James Arness thanks to a suggestion from “The Duke” himself.

Arness, by the way, also has a brother who plays a TV role that’s known worldwide. Peter Graves, Arness’ real-life brother, played Jim Phelps in yet another CBS blockbuster series, “Mission: Impossible.”

Burt Reynolds Received Career Boost With Role

Before becoming a box-office superstar, Burt Reynolds found success in TV. Yes, Reynolds played Quint Asper from 1962-1965 on the show.

In 1962, Reynolds’ career would take off after Dennis Weaver, who played Chester, left the show. (Sidenote: Weaver would go on years later to famously portray McCloud on NBC’s “McCloud” series.) He previously starred in “Riverboat” and appeared in classic TV shows such as “Perry Mason” and “The Twilight Zone.”

After a successful audition, “Gunsmoke” had a new addition and fans fell in love with Reynolds. 

During an interview, Reynolds said that being on “Gunsmoke” was “the happiest period of my life. I hated to leave that show but I felt I had served my apprenticeship. There wasn’t room for two leading men.”

After “Gunsmoke,” Reynolds traded in his cowboy hat for a detective’s badge in the TV series’ “Hawk” and “Dan August.” Movie stardom awaited in “Deliverance” and other roles.

Outsider.com