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Dennis Weaver

Dennis Weaver

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Also Known As: Died: February 24, 2006
Born: June 4, 1924 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: Joplin, Missouri, USA Profession: Cast ... actor songwriter singer lay minister
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BIOGRAPHY

A laconic performer who possessed an Everyman quality that rendered him perfect for the small screen, actor Dennis Weaver was a television mainstay for more than 40 years, appearing in a variety of television movies while starring on two long-running series, "Gunsmoke" (CBS, 1955-1975) and "McCloud" (1970-77). Having started his career in features, Weaver made the jump to television with a few guest appearances before spending several seasons playing the popular Chester Goode on "Gunsmoke." After leaving the show in 1964, he built off that success into a number of false starts until finally hitting his stride as the star of "McCloud," which showcased him as an easygoing cowboy lawman dealing with the stark pessimism of New York City - a role that many associated with Weaver above all others. While on the show, he starred as an unassuming motorist terrorized by a trucker in "Duel" (ABC, 1971), and spent the decades after "McCloud" ended in a series of made-for-TV movies and short-lived series like "Cocaine: One Man's Seduction" (NBC, 1983) and "Buck James" (ABC, 1987-88). An avowed environmentalist and champion of liberal causes, Weaver forged a legacy beyond Hollywood that highlighted his unending empathy for his fellow man, all while retaining his stature as a notable performer.

Born June 4, 1924 in Joplin, MO, Weaver was raised by his father, Walter, and his mother, Lenna. Wanting to become an actor from childhood, Weaver excelled in high school drama, as well as athletics. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he earned a degree at the University of Oklahoma and tried out for the U.S Olympic team for the decathlon, only to fail to qualify after a sixth place finish. Weaver headed to New York City following college, where he studied at the famed Actors Studio. He appeared in a stage production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" opposite Shelley Winters, and on Broadway in 1950 as college suitor Turk in "Come Back, Little Sheba" with Shirley Booth. After signing a contract with Universal Studios in 1952, Weaver migrated to Hollywood and made his screen debut in "The Raiders" (1952), though he was dropped by the studio a year later. On the small screen, he landed guest spots on "Dragnet" (syndicated, 1951-54) and "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars" (CBS, 1951-59), while having a big year in 1955 with three movies: "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," "Ten Wanted Men" and "Seven Angry Men."

Weaver next landed his most recognizable role; that of the limping, comic-relief deputy Chester Goode on "Gunsmoke" (CBS, 1955-1975). With his trademark twang, Weaver was one of the more popular Dodge City residents and went on to become a major star in a role that won him the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in 1957. While on the show, he played a twitchy motel clerk in Orson Welles' film noir classic, "Touch of Evil" (1958), and was a man trapped inside his own dream for a 1961 episode of "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964). In 1964, Weaver left "Gunsmoke" to star in his own series, "Kentucky Jones" (NBC, 1964-65), where he portrayed a veterinarian who adopts a nine-year-old Chinese orphan. Weaver also starred in the feature "Gentle Giant" (1967), about a bear captured in the Everglades that is saved by a ranger and his son, which was turned into the short-lived series, "Gentle Ben" (CBS, 1967-69). He had his next hit series with "McCloud" (NBC, 1970-77), in which he starred as a cowboy law enforcement officer from New Mexico, who lands a long-running special assignment in New York City, where his typically high-spirited attitude clashes with his pessimistic counterparts. The show lasted a solid seven seasons, with Weaver traversing New York's streets on horseback becoming the show's most lasting image.

During his run on "McCloud," Weaver starred in Steven Spielberg's minor thriller masterpiece, "Duel" (ABC, 1971), playing an unassuming motorist terrorized by the unseen driver of a massive tanker truck. He was next cast as Abraham Lincoln in "The Great Man's Whiskers" (NBC, 1973), a lighter look at the great president's life and times, and as Benjamin Fuller, the professor studying natives, in "Ishi: The Last of His Tribe" (NBC, 1978). After "McCloud" solidified his popularity, he moved on to portray a cop and celebrity best-selling author on the short-lived "Stone" (ABC, 1979-1980), before offering a fine performance as the doctor who treats John Wilkes Booth - not knowing he has just assassinated Lincoln - in "The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd" (CBS, 1980). His common-Joe qualities played well in "Cocaine: One Man's Seduction" (NBC, 1983), in which he was a real estate agent whose life takes a new path after his addiction, after which he went on to head the cast of the primetime serial, "Emerald Point, N.A.S" (CBS, 1983-84), playing a commanding officer of a naval air post. After playing a factory foreman who gives up his job rather than admit he cannot read in "Bluffing It" (ABC, 1986), Weaver was a charming and confident trauma surgeon who nonetheless has troubles at home on the short-lived drama, "Buck James" (ABC, 1987-88). Upon early cancellation of that series, he was a small town sheriff in "Disaster at Silo 7" (ABC, 1989) before reprising his popular cowboy lawman in the made-for-television movie "The Return of Sam McCloud" (CBS, 1989).

Weaver next hosted the syndicated "Backstage at the Zoo" in 1991, a 12-part series about zoos from around the world with an emphasis on conservation. Weaver went on to juggle hosting gigs with his narrative projects, playing the vice president in the satirical "Mastergate" (Showtime, 1992) while hosting such specials as "A Tribute to the Singing Cowboy" (TNN, 1993) and "Ancient Secrets of the Bible, Part II" (CBS, 1993). He was the voice of Robert E. Lee in "Smithsonian's Great Battles of the Civil War" (TLC, 1994), before starring opposite Melissa Gilbert in "Seduction in a Small Town" (ABC, 1997). Weaver's output slowed down in the latter part of the decades with appearances in the television movies "The Virginian" (TNT, 2000) and "High Noon" (TNT, 2000). Following episodes of "The Beast" (ABC, 2001), "Family Law" (CBS, 1999-2001) and "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003), he had his last regular series role on "Wildfire" (ABC Family, 2004-08). Weaver's life and career were cut short on Feb. 24, 2006, after losing his battle with cancer, but he left behind an enduring legacy that included participating in numerous political causes. Weaver was a dedicated environmentalist and human rights activist who served as president of Love is Feeding Everyone (LIFE), which fed 150,000 needy people a week in Los Angeles County, and founded the Institute of Economics, which sought solutions to economic and environmental solutions. He also spoke at the United Nations to fight hunger and pollution, and built a so-called Earthship, a solar-powered house constructed from recycled tires and cans.

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