Dennis Weaver, who starred in the classic TV Western "Gunsmoke" and later brought the West to New York City in "McCloud," has died.
The actor and environmental activist, who recently appeared in the ABC Family series "Wildfire," died Friday (Feb. 24) of complications from cancer at his home in Ridgway, Colo., news reports say. He was 81.
Weaver's death came around the same time as two similarly prolific contemporaries, former "Andy Griffith" star Don Knotts and "Night Stalker" Darren McGavin. Weaver and McGavin appeared together onscreen once, in the 1992 Showtime satire "Mastergate."
"All of us at ABC Family are saddened to learn of the death of Dennis Weaver," the network says in a statement. "It was an honor to have him star in our original drama 'Wildfire,' and his performance never ceased to dazzle us. He was an American legend not only for his contribution to the acting community but for his extensive and inspirational environmental work."
After a few film roles in the early 1950s and a handful of appearances on "Dragnet," Weaver got his big break when he joined the cast of "Gunsmoke" in 1955 as Chester Goode, deputy to Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness). He stayed on for nine seasons, winning an Emmy in 1959.
He later starred in the CBS series "Gentle Ben," and in 1970, took the title role in "McCloud," playing a New Mexico lawman who used some wild-west tactics to solve crimes in New York. He earned two more Emmy nominations for the role. He also starred in the 1971 TV movie "Duel," directed by 25-year-old Steven Spielberg.
His recent credits, in addition to "Wildfire," include guest appearances on "The Simpsons" and "Family Law" and the 2000 TBS remake of "High Noon."
Weaver was also an activist, building a home almost entirely of recycled materials and serving as president of a Los Angeles organization called LIFE (Love Is Feeding Everyone) that served meals to the needy. He spoke before Congress and the United Nations about the environment and world hunger.