James Arness, best known for "Gunsmoke," has died

n this undated publicity image released by CBS, actor James Arness is shown as Marshal Matt Dillon in "Gunsmoke." CBS spokesman Chris Ender says former "Gunsmoke" star James Arness died Friday, June 3, 2011 of natural causes. He was 88.
AP Photo/CBS
James Arness as as Marshal Matt Dillon in "Gunsmoke."

(CBS) James Arness, the tall, iconic actor best known for playing Marshal Matt Dillon on the long-running television series "Gunsmoke," has died. He was 88.

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The Los Angeles Times reports the actor died Friday of natural causes.

According to the biography on his website, Arness was born on May 26, 1923, in Minneapolis. His first job in show business was as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945.

He moved to Los Angeles and got a part in the 1947 movie "The Farmer's Daughter" starring Loretta Young. He played The Thing in the 1951 science fiction classic, "The Thing from Another World."

After befriending John Wayne and acting in films for his production company, Wayne suggested the 6' 7" actor play Marshal Matt Dillon in the upcoming television series "Gunsmoke." Arness won the part and played Dillon for 20 years, becoming a TV icon in the process.

He made few films during the 20-year "Gunsmoke" run. (There were 635 episodes produced in the series over its long tenure.) Arness was nominated for three Emmys over those 20 years and reprised his role as Dillon in made-for-TV "Gunsmoke" movies in the 1980s and 1990s. He also starred in mini-series "How the West was Won" in the late 1970s.

Arness was a World War II veteran. According to the LA Times, he was drafted in 1943 while attending Beloit College in Wisconsin and assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, taking part in the landing at Anzio, Italy, in 1944.

In a letter posted posthumously on his official website, Arness writes, "I wanted to take this time to thank all of you for the many years of being a fan of 'Gunsmoke,' 'The Thing,' 'How the West Was Won' and all the other fun projects I was lucky enough to have been allowed to be a part of. I had the privilege of working with so many great actors over the years."

He is survived by his wife, Janet, two sons and six grandchildren. His younger brother was actor Peter Graves (their family name is Aurness), who died in March 2010.