Dennis Weaver
Weaver in 1960
William Dennis Weaver

(1924-06-04)June 4, 1924
DiedFebruary 24, 2006(2006-02-24) (aged 81)
Years active1950–2006
Gerry Stowell
(m. 1945)
18th President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
Preceded byJohn Gavin
Succeeded byKathleen Nolan

William Dennis Weaver[1] (June 4, 1924 – February 24, 2006) was an American actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild, best known for his work in television and films from the early 1950s until just before his death in 2006. Weaver's two most famous roles were as Marshal Matt Dillon's trusty deputy Chester Goode/Proudfoot on the western Gunsmoke and as Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud on the police drama McCloud. He starred in the 1971 television film Duel, the first film of director Steven Spielberg. He is also remembered for his role as the twitchy motel attendant in Orson Welles's film Touch of Evil (1958).

Early life

Weaver was born June 4, 1924, in Joplin, Missouri, the son of Walter Leon "Doc" Weaver and his wife Lenna Leora (née Prather). His father claimed to be of English, Irish, Scottish, Cherokee, and Osage ancestry. Weaver wanted to be an actor from childhood. He lived in Shreveport, Louisiana, for several years and for a short time in Manteca, California. He studied at Joplin Junior College, then transferred to the University of Oklahoma at Norman, where he studied drama and was a track star, setting records in several events. During World War II, he served as a pilot in the United States Navy, flying Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft.[2] After the war, he married Gerry Stowell (his childhood sweetheart), with whom he had three children. Under the name Billy D. Weaver, he tried out for the 1948 U.S. Olympic team in the decathlon,[3] finishing sixth behind 17-year-old high school track star Bob Mathias. However, only the top three finishers were selected.[4] Weaver later commented, "I did so poorly [in the Olympic Trials], I decided to ... stay in New York and try acting."[3]


Weaver's first role on Broadway came as an understudy to Lonny Chapman as Turk Fisher in Come Back, Little Sheba. He eventually took over the role from Chapman in the national touring company. Solidifying his choice to become an actor, Weaver enrolled in the Actors Studio,[5] where he met Shelley Winters. In the beginning of his acting career, he supported his family by doing odd jobs, including selling vacuum cleaners, tricycles, and women's hosiery.

Weaver as Chester, Milburn Stone as Doc, and Amanda Blake as Kitty in Gunsmoke, 1960
Weaver and Mariette Hartley on the set of Gunsmoke, 1962

In 1952, Shelley Winters helped him get a contract from Universal Studios. He made his film debut that same year in the movie The Redhead from Wyoming. Over the next three years, he played in a series of movies, but still had to work odd jobs to support his family. In 1955 he appeared in an episode of The Lone Ranger "The Tell Tale Bullet", which is viewable on YouTube. While delivering flowers, he heard he had landed the role of Chester Goode, the limping, loyal assistant of Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) on the new television series Gunsmoke. It was his big break; the show went on to become the highest-rated and longest-running live action series in United States television history (1955 to 1975). He received an Emmy Award in 1959 for Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series.

According to the Archive of American Television interview with Weaver, the producer had him in mind for Chester, but could not locate him, and was delighted when he showed up to audition. Never having heard the radio show, Weaver gave Chester's "inane" dialog his best "method" delivery. Disappointed in his delivery, however, the producer asked for something humorous, and Weaver nailed it. The stiff leg came about when the producer pointed out that sidekicks almost always have some failing or weakness that makes them less capable than the star. Weaver decided that a stiff leg would be just the right thing.[6]

In 1957, Weaver appeared as Commander B.D. Clagett in a single episode of the television series The Silent Service titled "Two Davids and Goliath". Having become famous as Chester, he was next cast in an offbeat supporting role in the 1958 Orson Welles film Touch of Evil,[7] in which he played a face-twisting, body-contorting eccentric employee of a remote motel who nervously repeated, "I'm the night man." In 1960, he appeared in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents titled "Insomnia", in which his character suffers from sleeplessness owing to the tragic death of his wife. He also co-starred in a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone titled "Shadow Play". In that episode, Weaver's character is trapped inside his own revolving nightmare, repeatedly being tried, sentenced, and then executed in the electric chair.[8] In 1964 Weaver left Gunsmoke to star as a friendly veterinary physician raising an adopted Chinese boy as a single father in NBC's one season comedy drama Kentucky Jones. He had a significant role in the 1966 western Duel at Diablo, with James Garner and Sidney Poitier. His next substantial role was as Tom Wedloe on the CBS family series Gentle Ben, with co-star Clint Howard, from 1967 to 1969. Decades earlier, as a student at Oklahoma University in the mid-1940s, it was Weaver who had introduced Clint's parents, Rance Howard and Jean Speegle Howard, to one another when the three of them were theater students at OU.[9]

In 1970, Weaver landed the title role in the NBC series McCloud, for which he received two Emmy Award nominations. In 1974, he was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Limited Series (McCloud) and in 1975, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series. The show, about a modern Western lawman who ends up in New York City, was loosely based on the Clint Eastwood film Coogan's Bluff. His frequent use of the affirming Southernism, "There you go," became a catchphrase for the show. During the series, in 1971, Weaver also appeared in Duel, a television movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg selected Weaver based on the intensity of his earlier performance in Touch of Evil.[10]

Weaver was also a recording artist, with most of his tracks being spoken-word recordings with musical accompaniment. He released several singles and albums between 1959 and 1984, most notable of which was his eponymous Im'press Records LP in 1972, the cover of which featured a portrait of Weaver in character as McCloud; it was the first of seven albums he recorded.[citation needed]

From 1973 to 1975, Weaver was president of the Screen Actors Guild.

His later series during the 1980s (both of which lasted only one season) were Stone in which Weaver played a Joseph Wambaugh-esque police sergeant turned crime novelist and Buck James in which he played a Texas-based surgeon and rancher. (Buck James was loosely based on real-life Texas doctor James "Red" Duke.) He portrayed a Navy rear admiral for 22 episodes of a 1983–1984 series, Emerald Point N.A.S.

In 1977, he portrayed a husband who physically abuses his wife (portrayed by Sally Struthers) in the made-for-TV movie Intimate Strangers, one of the first network features to depict domestic violence. In 1978, Weaver played the trail boss R. J. Poteet in the television miniseries Centennial, in the installment titled "The Longhorns". Weaver also appeared in many acclaimed television films, including Amber Waves (1980) with Kurt Russell. Also in 1980, he portrayed Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was imprisoned for involvement in the Lincoln assassination, in The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd and starred with his real-life son Robby Weaver in the short-lived NBC police series Stone.[11] In 1983, he played a real estate agent addicted to cocaine in Cocaine: One Man's Seduction. Weaver received probably the best reviews of his career when he starred in the 1987 film Bluffing It, in which he played a man who is illiterate. In February 2002, he appeared on the animated series The Simpsons (episode DABF07, "The Lastest Gun in the West") as the voice of aging Hollywood cowboy legend Buck McCoy.[12]

For his contribution to the television industry, Dennis Weaver was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6822 Hollywood Blvd, and on the Dodge City (KS) Trail of Fame. In 1981, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers with the Bronze Wrangler Award at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Weaver as McCloud was used to promote a rock show in New York City. He also hosted segments for the Encore Westerns premium cable network in the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s.

Weaver's last work was done on an ABC Family cable television show called Wildfire, where he played Henry Ritter, the father of Jean Ritter and the co-owner of Raintree Ranch. His role on the show was cut short by his death.

Personal life

Weaver in 2000

Weaver was reported to have been a vegetarian from 1958 for ethical reasons; however, he did occasionally eat fish.[13][14]

Weaver married Gerry Stowell after World War II, and they had three sons: Richard, Robert, and Rustin Weaver.[15] Gerry died April 26, 2016, at 90.[citation needed]

Weaver's home in Ridgway, Colorado, exemplified his commitment to preserving the environment. In the late 1980s, he commissioned architect Michael Reynolds to design and build his new residence, which incorporated into its construction various recycled materials, such as old automobile tires and discarded cans, and featured passive solar power and other ecotechnologies. Weaver called his home Earthship, the same name given to the design concept pioneered by Reynolds and advanced by him as part of what was then a growing interest in "sustainable architecture" by environmentalists. Weaver and his family lived at Earthship for over 14 years, until 2004.[16]

In July 2003, Weaver lost a daughter-in-law, Lynne Ann Weaver, wife of son Robby Weaver, in Santa Monica, California, when a car driven at high speed plowed through shoppers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. She was one of 10 people killed in the incident.[17]

Weaver was a lifelong active Democrat.[18]


Weaver was an environmentalist, who promoted the use of alternative fuels, such as hydrogen and wind power, through the Institute of Ecolonomics, a nonprofit environmental organization he established in 1993 in Berthoud, Colorado. "Ecolonomics" is a term formed by combining the words ecology and economics.[19][20] He was also involved with John Denver's WindStar Foundation, and he founded an organization called L.I.F.E. (Love is Feeding Everyone), which provided food for 150,000 needy people a week in Los Angeles.[19]

Weaver was also active in liberal political causes. He used his celebrity status as a fundraiser and organizer for George McGovern's campaign for President in 1972.[21]

In 2004, he led a fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles across the United States to raise awareness about America's dependence on oil.[19]

Weaver was consistently involved with the annual Genesis Awards, which honor those in the news and entertainment media who bring attention to the plight and suffering of animals. Established by the Ark Trust, the award has been presented by the Humane Society of the United States since 2002.[22]

There will come a time ... when civilized people will look back in horror on our generation and the ones that preceded it – the idea that we should eat other living things running around on four legs, that we should raise them just for the purpose of killing them! The people of the future will say "meat-eaters!" in disgust and regard us in the same way we regard cannibals and cannibalism — Dennis Weaver[23]


Weaver died from prostate cancer at his home in Ridgway, Colorado, on February 24, 2006, at age 81.[15]




  1. ^ "Dennis Weaver". The Independent. London. March 1, 2006. Archived from the original on January 16, 2018.
  2. ^ Kovalchik, Kara (11 November 2009). "6 Famous Veterans from TV". Mental Floss. Archived from the original on September 30, 2017. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Dennis Weaver, Olympic hopeful". Archived from the original on 2010-09-27.
  4. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-06-05.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 278. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
  6. ^ Colman, Henry (24 September 2002). "Dennis Weaver – Archive Interview". Archive of American Television. Archived from the original on 13 July 2014. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  7. ^ "Touch of Evil". Archived from the original on 2010-09-27.
  8. ^ Prejean, Jordan (2014). "Shadow Play", Archived 2017-09-30 at the Wayback Machine The Twilight Zone, season 2, episode 26; originally broadcast May 5, 1961; a detailed review and commentary about episode, The Twilight Zone Vortex. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  9. ^ Howard, Clint and Ron (2022). The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family. William Morrow Paperbacks. p. 148. ISBN 978-0063065253.
  10. ^ From the director's commentary on Duel: Special Edition DVD, 2005.
  11. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946–Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 1133. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-05. Retrieved 2010-05-26.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)"Buck McCoy,"
  13. ^ Berry, Rynn (1979). "Dennis Weaver". The Vegetarians. Brookline, MA: Autumn Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-394-73633-8.
  14. ^ "In Defense of Vegetarianism: Seven Years". Retrieved 9 July 2022.
  15. ^ a b "Dennis Weaver, 81; Star of 'Gunsmoke,' 'McCloud' Also Was Environmental Activist". Los Angeles Times. 28 February 2006. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  16. ^ Ryon, Ruth (2004). "Dennis Weaver selling Colorado 'Earthship' home," SFGate Archived 2017-04-01 at the Wayback Machine (San Francisco, California). Republished real-estate news item from the Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2004, Los Angeles, California. Retrieved April 1, 2017.
  17. ^ "Infant Dies From Injuries Suffered in Farmers Market Crash". Fox News. 2003-07-17. Archived from the original on 2016-11-26. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  18. ^ Mathews, Jay (28 May 1983). "Democrats Hope to Get $6 Million in Telethon". Archived from the original on 25 August 2017 – via
  19. ^ a b c "A TV hero for real-life change: Dennis Weaver, actor, 1924–2006" in The Sydney Morning Herald, March 29, 2006, p. 29
  20. ^ "Institute of Ecolonomics". Archived from the original on 2010-01-22.
  21. ^ McGovern, George S., Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern, Random House, 1977, pp. 173, 247
  22. ^ "Winners of the 2016 Genesis Awards," Archived 2017-04-01 at the Wayback Machine Human Society of the United States, Washington, DC. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
  23. ^ Berry, Rynn (1979). The Vegetarians. Autumn Press. p. 64. ISBN 9780394736334.
  24. ^ a b "Dennis Weaver".