- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

LOS ANGELES — Dennis Weaver, the slow-witted deputy Chester Goode in the TV classic western “Gunsmoke” and the New Mexico deputy solving New York crimes in “McCloud,” has died. The actor was 81.

Mr. Weaver died of complications from cancer Friday at his home in Ridgway, in southwestern Colorado.

Mr. Weaver was a struggling actor in Hollywood in 1955 when he was offered $300 a week for a role in a new CBS television series, “Gunsmoke.” By the end of his nine years with “Gunsmoke,” he was earning $9,000 a week.

When Mr. Weaver first auditioned for the series, he found the character of Chester “inane.” He wrote in his 2001 autobiography that he thought: “With all my Actors Studio training, I’ll correct this character by using my own experiences and drawing from myself.” The result was a well-rounded character that appealed to audiences, especially with his drawling “Mis-ter Dil-lon,” referring to James Arness’ lead character, Marshal Matt Dillon.

In 1966, Mr. Weaver starred with a 600-pound black bear in “Gentle Ben,” about a family that adopts a bear as a pet.

Next came the character Sam McCloud, which Mr. Weaver called “the most satisfying role of my career.”

The “McCloud” series, which ran from 1970 to 1977, juxtaposed a no-nonsense lawman from Taos, N.M., onto the crime-ridden streets of New York City.

He also appeared in several movies, including “Touch of Evil,” “Ten Wanted Men,” “Gentle Giant,” “Seven Angry Men,” “Dragnet,” “Way … Way Out” and “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.”

Mr. Weaver also was an activist for protecting the environment and combating world hunger.

He served as president of Love Is Feeding Everyone (LIFE), which fed 150,000 needy people a week in Los Angeles County. He founded the Institute of Ecolonomics, which sought solutions to economic and environmental problems.

“Earthship” was the most visible of Mr. Weaver’s crusades. He and his wife, Gerry, built a solar-powered Colorado home out of recycled tires and cans.

The tall, slender actor came by his Midwestern twang naturally. He was born June 4, 1924, in Joplin, Mo., where he excelled in high school drama and athletics.

He studied at the Actors Studio in New York and appeared in “A Streetcar Named Desire” opposite Shelley Winters and toured in “Come Back, Little Sheba” with Shirley Booth.

Mr. Weaver appeared in dozens of TV movies, the most notable being the 1971 “Duel.”

Mr. Weaver is survived by his wife; sons Rick, Robby and Rusty; and three grandchildren.

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