’Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Bid Farewell to Most of His Kids Who Passed Away before Him

By age, children typically outlive their parents. However, "Gunsmoke" star James Arness sadly had the opposite experience as a father. He bid farewell to his daughter only 11 days before she turned 25. 

James Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon for a good 20 years on the CBS show "Gunsmoke." During his time on-screen, the actor became loved for his giggle fits on set. 

But despite his stoic character on set, Arness is a celebrated family man and has had his fair share of relationships. He's been married twice and also had a long-running relationship.

James Arness on a scene from "Gunsmoke" and together with his kids. | Source: Getty Images

James Arness on a scene from "Gunsmoke" and together with his kids. | Source: Getty Images

LOVE LIFE AND MARRIAGE

Arness married Virginia Chapman in 1948 and had three children with her. Son Rolf, daughter Jenny Lee and Chapman's son from a previous relationship, Craig, who Arness adopted as his own.

Their marriage lasted 12 years before they called it quits and went their separate ways. Four years after the divorce, Arness got into a six-year-long relationship with Thordis Brandt.

Actor James Arness of TV's 'Gunsmoke' poses for a photo 1969 in Los Angeles, California.| Source: Getty Images

Actor James Arness of TV's 'Gunsmoke' poses for a photo 1969 in Los Angeles, California.| Source: Getty Images

He then married Janet Surtees in 1978. She was with him until his passing on in 2011. Arness, despite being famous in his acting career, always found time for his family. Outsider reports an old family friend of Arness' to have said of the celebrated actor:

"He could compartmentalize both his family life and his famous work career."

CRAIG - ARNESS' ADOPTED SON

Craig is the eldest of the Arness kids, and he was born to Victoria Chapman in a previous relationship. When she married Arness in 1948, he adopted him as his own. He was only two at the time.

James Arness on the set of "Gunsmoke" | Source: Getty Images

James Arness on the set of "Gunsmoke" | Source: Getty Images

He took to a career in photography, and in 1978, his first major assignment with National Geographic was published. He spent the next decade touring the world and writing books and stories for the National Geographic Magazine. 

His work was so good that he received the Best Photo of the Year and Best Photograph Awards. Together with fellow photographer Charles O'Rear, he started a stock photography business named Westlight. 

In 2004, Craig started receiving treatment for anemia and lung complications, and unfortunately, in December of the same year, he passed on at the age of 58.

Promotional portrait of American actor James Arness, 1950s. | Source:Getty Images

Promotional portrait of American actor James Arness, 1950s. | Source:Getty Images

ROLF - ARNESS' SECOND SON

Rolf was born in 1952, and at only nine years, he had a severe fall and fractured his skull, and in an attempt to have him recover, his father, who had been a surfer for many years, started training him to surf. 

The "Gunsmoke" star, [Arness], who passed on in 2011, outlived his beloved daughter by 36 years.

He became so good at it that he had several wins before bagging the 1970 World Surfing Champion title. With a championship under his belt and two consecutive family tragedies - the deaths of his sister and mother - Rolf started losing interest in surfing.

James Arness stars as Marshall Matt Dillon, in the CBS television series "Gunsmoke."

James Arness stars as Marshall Matt Dillon, in the CBS television series "Gunsmoke."

He took an interest in playing jazz piano and even married an astrologer, who passed on in 1978. He moved to his father's Hollister Ranch to deal with the loss, where he slowly started regaining his interest in surfing. 

In 1986, the ranch was sold, prompting Rolf to move to Los Angeles, where he worked as a part-time volunteer counselor in a mental health clinic.

JENNY LEE - THE ONLY ARNESS' DAUGHTER

Jenny was born in 1950. She made appearances on the TV series "Gunsmoke" as Amy, alongside her dad, who played the law-abiding Marshal Matt Dillon.

James Arness on  "How The West Was Won" - Airdate: February 12, 1978. | Source: Getty Images

James Arness on "How The West Was Won" - Airdate: February 12, 1978. | Source: Getty Images

Unfortunately, only 11 days to her 25th birthday, Jenny overdosed on sleeping pills and passed on in May 1975. The "Gunsmoke" star, who passed on in 2011, outlived his beloved daughter by 36 years. 

Two years after her demise, her mom, Virginia Arness, who'd been divorced from her dad since 1963, passed on, also from a drug overdose, which was later ruled as accidental.

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