‘Gunsmoke’: What Was James Arness’ Net Worth at the Time of His Death?

Few TV shows were as perennial as Gunsmoke. Airing from 1955 to 1975, it remains one of the longest-running scripted shows. Only the reigning champ The Simpsons and a few others have surpassed the Western show’s 20-year run on TV. So, how much did that success affect lead actor James Arness’ net worth? Let’s investigate.

‘Gunsmoke’ was a TV mainstay for decades

Gunsmoke star James Arness net worth
James Arness (left) and the rest of the ‘Gunsmoke’ cast | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Gunsmoke began as a radio drama in the early ’50s. But with the advent of television, the show became the perfect fit for this new medium. Arness stepped into the role of U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon, portrayed by William Conrad in the radio version. Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake, Dennis Weaver, and Ken Curtis also played major roles throughout the TV show’s run.

Sadly, CBS canceled Gunsmoke in 1975 after two decades on the air. But thankfully for fans, the show lived on in a string of TV movies airing from 1987 to 1994. They, too, featured members of the original Gunsmoke cast — including Arness, who appeared in all five films — and gave the massive fandom a chance to return to Dodge City.

What was ‘Gunsmoke’ star James Arness’ net worth when he died?

Gunsmoke star James Arness net worth
James Arness as U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon in ‘Gunsmoke’ | CBS via Getty Images

With all the years he spent playing Matt Dillon, the character was Jame Arness’ signature role. And so it remains, even decades after he last played the small-town lawman and a dozen years after Arness’ death. The actor died in 2011 at age 88 from natural causes. He lived a full life, leaving him with a solid net worth at his death.

According to Celebrity Net Worth, James Arness’ net worth was around $8 million when he died. Much of that comes directly from Gunsmoke. But he also appeared in many other projects over the years. They include the TV show How the West Was Won and the films The Thing From Another World and Them! He also earned three Emmy nominations during his career.

How much did James Arness earn on ‘Gunsmoke’?


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One of the more fascinating bits of trivia about James Arness’ career is his Gunsmoke salary. According to TV Guide, the actor earned roughly $30 million for his work on the show, at least until 1970. To put that amount into a modern context, that’s about $230 million today.

That number doesn’t even account for the final five seasons of Gunsmoke or the five TV movies that followed, all featuring Arness. Still, he earned an impressive amount for the era. According to Outsider, the actor received $20,000 per episode after contract renegotiations — the equivalent of $150,000 today.