Former "Gunsmoke" actor James Arness died Friday, June 3, of natural causes at the age of 88 according to his official website and CBS spokesman Chris Ender.

Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon on the TV series from 1955-1975, the longest running dramatic series until recently when "Law & Order" tied that record.

The Minnesota native was 32 when his friend, John Wayne, turned down the lead role in a new CBS TV western series and recommended Arness instead.

Born James King Aurness in Minneapolis, he left home when he was 18 and hopped freight trains and ships. He was wounded in World War II and earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He then went to Hollywood where he had parts in more than 20 films before "Gunsmoke."

At six feet, seven inches tall he fit well in the title role of the 1951 movie "The Thing (From Another World)." He was also in the sci-fi film "Them!"

His film debut was playing Loretta Young's brother in

"The Farmer's Daughter" in 1947.

He co-starred with John Wayne in "Big Jim McLain," "Hondo," "Island in the Sky" and "Sea Chase."

Arness is considered a cult figure in some European countries for his TV role as Zeb Macahan in "How The West Was Won."

He played U. S. Marshal Matt Dillon in five made-for-TV movies between 1987 and 1994.

Arness wrote an autobiography in 2001 called "...if I was going to write a book about my life, I better do it now... 'cause I'm not getting any younger."

A couple tidbits you may not have known about James Arness, his original hair color was blonde and his brother was actor Peter Graves.

The opening theme to TV's "Gunsmoke" always brings back a lot of good memories of watching the show with the family.

\'Gunsmoke\' Opening Theme (YouTube)