Ben Bates, who served as the stunt double for James Arness, the star of Gunsmoke, for more than 25 years, died Oct. 4 in Sun City, Calif., his family announced. He was 84.
In addition to stepping in for Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon on the long-running CBS Western, Bates doubled for the actor on the TV series McClain’s Law and How the West Was Won (on which Bates also served as stunt coordinator) and in the TV movies Red River and The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory.
In 2001’s James Arness: An Autobiography, Bates said that each year on Gunsmoke, Arness “would make them pay me more money, and the outstanding way he treated me is something I will never forget.”
He also noted in the book that Arness gave him the .45 gun that he had used on the show for years, telling him, “‘You mean more to me than putting this into a museum somewhere.’ You can imagine how that made me feel.”
Last year, Bates received a Silver Spur Award from Janet Arness, the actor’s widow, at the annual Reel Cowboys event in Studio City, and members of Arness‘ family attended Bates’ memorial service this month.
A native of Texas who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, Bates also worked on other TV shows like Bosom Buddies, The Fall Guy and Matt Houston and on films including The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981).
Bates landed a gig as the Marlboro Man in print and television ads after being spotted in competition at the Chicago Rodeo in 1967. Later, he served two terms as president of the Junior Rodeo Association of California.
Survivors include his fiancée, Valerie; children Bliss, Brandon, Eddie and Ben Jr.; and brothers Charles and Bill. Donations in his name can be made to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch.