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'Gunsmoke' Star Dennis Weaver Nearly Made the 1948 Olympic Team & Once Lived in Recycled House

Rodolfo Vieira
Nov 04, 2021
04:52 P.M.
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Dennis Weaver is one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood, and is known not only because of his immense talent in front of the cameras but also his life story.

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Weaver, who sadly passed away in 2006 at the age of 81, lived a long and fulfilled life, full of adventures along the way.

Born in Missouri in 1924, during the Great Depression, Weaver showed an incredible aptitude for sports, having played football at Joplin High School and basketball at Joplin Junior College.

Dennis Weaver in character as 'Chester Goode' of the television Western series "Gunsmoke" | Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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A GREAT ATHLETE

But where he really shined was at track and field while studying for a degree in arts at the University of Oklahoma. He was so good that he represented the Sooners at the 1948 Olympic trials.

Sadly, despite his best efforts, he only managed to get sixth place in the decathlon. Only the athletes in the top 3 made the United States Team and traveled to London, England, to compete in the Olympic Games.

Dennis Weaver in the 1959's "The Gallant Hours" in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Richard C. Miller/Getty Images

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HOW IT ALL STARTED

Prior to that, however, Weaver served as a Navy pilot during World War II and tied the knot with Gerry Stowell, his high school sweetheart, with whom he had three children - Rick, Rob, and Rusty.

Ever since he was a little boy, Weaver dreamed of becoming an actor and making a living of it, and got his first opportunity in Broadway's "Come Back, Little Sheba."

Dennis Weaver, "Gunsmoke" star in the mid 1950s to mid 1960s | Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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The role led him to sign a contract with Universal Studios, under which he would play an array of characters, most of them in westerns, with "Gunsmoke" being his big break.

Portraying Chester Goode on the show, a part that he played for a total of 9 years and that earned him an Emmy Award, would define his successful career.

Dennis Weaver arrives to the 14th Annual Environmental Media Awards | Photo: Getty Images

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MOVING ON

After "Gunsmoke," the actor moved on and starred in his own series, "Kentucky Jones," but the show was not well received by the audiences and was canceled after just one season.

Half a decade later, in 1971, Weaver had the opportunity to become Marshal Sam McCloud in "McCloud," a role that he later claimed to be similar to the one he played in "Gunsmoke."

James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Amanda Blake and Milburn Stone in "Buffalo Man" in 1957 | Photo: CBS via Getty Images

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According to the late star, he saw in McCloud the chance of being the leading man, something that he always wanted to be, and not just "a second banana."

Aside from the aforementioned shows, Weaver also starred in "Horizons West," "Dragnet," "Duel," "Emerald Point N.A.S.," "Buck James" and "Lonesome Dove: The Series."

Dennis Weaver during The 8th Annual PRISM Awards - Inside and Show at Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood, California | Photo: Jesse Grant/WireImage for The Lippin Group via Getty Images

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AT HIS PEAK

After several years in front of the cameras, with leading roles in both shows and films, Weaver became President of the Screen Actors Guild from 1973 to 1975, having earned his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Weaver made a name for himself through hard work and sacrifice, especially since he used to make a living, early in his career, selling pantyhose and delivering flowers.

Dennis Weaver in "The Dungeon" on PLAYHOUSE 90 in 1958 | Photo: CBS via Getty Images

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Aside from being a fantastic actor, Weaver was also quite a big fan of music. In the late 1950s, he even toured with "Gunsmoke" stars Milburn Stone and Amanda Blake, performing at rodeos.

Later on, the artist released numerous country-western albums, such as "People Songs," "One More Road," "Walk Along With Me" and "Coming Home To You."

Dennis Weaver attends the 26th Anniversary Book Fair Benefit for the Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center | Photo: Getty Images

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Weaver was also a published author following the release of his 2001 autobiography, "All the World's a Stage," and a big fan of writing poetry.

Aside from show business and the music industry, one of Weaver's biggest passions was Earth itself as he was a proud environmentalist.

Dennis Weaver and wife Gerry during 13th Annual Environmental Media Awards at The Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage via Getty Images

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PRESERVING NATURE

One of the most fascinating aspects of his life was the house that he built with his wife in Ridgway, Colorado, which was one of the "Earthships" designed by Michael Reynolds.

The house was special because it was entirely made out of recycled materials, such as car tires and metal cans, and it was built that way in order to draw attention to the cause.

Reynolds believes that, around the world, there may be 1000 "Earthships" just like Weaver's, and they can be the size of a multi-million dollar luxury mansion or a humble house in a Bolivian village.

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Bear Gentle Ben, child actor Clint Howard, and Dennis Weaver in a scene from the film "Gentle Giant" in 1967 | Photo: Camerique/Getty Images

The actor was very proud of his home and couldn't praise it enough, and when he was asked what drove them to build such a special house, he said:

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"We were looking to build a home that was more energy-efficient and more solar. He [Reynolds] was using discarded automobile tires. He’d found a way to make an asset out of an environmental problem, and it excited us.”

Dennis Weaver during 1991 ACMA Nominations Ceremony at Universal Studios in Universal City, California | Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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FOREVER GREEN

According to his website, Weaver dedicated 175 acres to the preservation of wildlife, and, nowadays, that area is part of RiverSage, the eco-friendly real estate.

The project is surrounded by 130 acres of green open space and the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park, which was built to honor his memory and his accomplishments throughout the years.

As aforementioned, Weaver passed away in 2006 at his home in Ridgway, following a long and hard battle with cancer. He was described by Burt Reynolds as a "wonderful man" and a "fine actor."

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