James Arness

1 minute read
James Poniewozik

For 20 years, James Arness, who died June 3 at 88, personified the upright western lawman Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. By any measure, Arness’s run on the show and the connection he developed with viewers over the course of a generation–not to mention simply being able to maintain interest in a character all those years–were remarkable achievements. Arness was the picture of Western rectitude, with his tall stature (he was 6 ft. 7 in., or just over 2 m), square jaw and clean-cut looks. But though Gunsmoke was a traditional TV western, you can see in Dillon the seeds of more conflicted lawmen in westerns like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Though the show was called Gunsmoke, Arness’s Dillon–who kept his emotions in check and would not draw first–made clear that he was not trigger-happy.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com