James Arness Birthday & Fun Facts

Height, Age, Net Worth, Biography & More

Oluniyi Akande
Feb 29, 2024 By Oluniyi Akande
Originally Published on Apr 19, 2022
Fact-checked by Amanpreet Kaur
Read about the life and career of American actor James Arness.
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Read time: 6.4 Min

About James Arness

James Arness was a popular American actor from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
James Arness starred in the popular western series 'Gunsmoke' for 20 years, making him one of the longest-running performers in TV history. He was also known for his roles in films such as 'The Thing From Another World' and 'How The West Was Won'.
Arness wasn't always interested in acting and didn't take it too seriously at the very beginning of his career. He later grew passionate about the craft after his experiences within the field and by the persuasion of friends. He went on to have a long career and portrayed some of the most iconic characters from the period.
Arness died of natural causes on June 3, 2011, at the age of 88 in Los Angeles. His legacy lives on through his memorable performances on screen and on stage.
Keep reading about this famous person to know more about his net worth, children, birthday and many more facts.

James Arness Net Worth, Earnings & Spending Habits

What was James Arness’ net worth?

James Arness had amassed a considerable sum from his long and expansive career. His net worth at the time of his death is estimated to be around $8 million.

How much did James Arness earn per year?

It is not known exactly how much the actor earned during his active days in Hollywood.

Height, Age & Physical Attributes

How tall was James Arness?

He had a height of 6 ft 7 in (200.7 cm) and this was a striking characteristic on screen. His height often landed him imposing roles on screen.

How old was James Arness?

Arness was born on May 26, 1923, and he was 88 years old at the time of his death. James Arness passed away on June 3, 2011, just a week after his 88th birthday. He was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

Childhood And Education

James Arness was born James King Aurness on May 26, 1923, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father Rolf Cirkler Aurness was a businessman of Norwegian ancestry and his mother Ruth Duesler was a journalist of German descent. James Arness had a younger brother, the actor, Peter Graves.
Arness and his brother were raised by their mother. Arness attended three schools in Minneapolis: John Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School, and West High School. He graduated from school in June 1942.
After high school, James Arness joined Beloit College and was a member of the fraternity Beta Theta Pi. Shortly into college, he received a draft for the Army in 1943. After serving in the Army during World War II, James moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

Family, Romance, And Relationships

Who was James Arness’ partner?

Arness is survived by his wife Janet Surtees.
He met his first wife Virginia Chapman at a play where she was his leading lady. They got married in 1948 and later divorced in 1963. Arness had two sons and one daughter from the marriage; his adopted son Craig (biological son of Chapman), and two other children by the name of Rolf Aurness and Jenny Lee Arness.
Craig Arness worked as a photographer for National Geographic and Rolf Aurness achieved the title of 'World Surfing Champion' in the year 1970.
James Arness was in a relationship with actor Thordis Brandt for six years after his divorce. He married his wife Janet Surtees on December 16, 1978.

Career And Professional Highlights

Arness' acting career began when he was honorably discharged from the Army post sustaining serious leg injuries. While recuperating at a hospital, his brother Peter Graves suggested that Arness pursue a radio course at the University of Minnesota. James Arness followed the advice and worked as a radio announcer at the WLOL radio station in Minneapolis for a while.
However, he decided to explore acting instead of pursuing a career in radio. It was during a play at the Bliss-Hayden Theatre School that he was spotted by a film scout, who got him his first role in a movie. James Arness debuted in 1947 as the brother of the protagonist in 'The Farmer's Daughter' (1947).
He committed himself more seriously to acting and went on to work on many projects ranging from television series to theater. He also starred in several movies, including iconic science-fiction 'The Thing From Another World' (1951) and 'How The West Was Won' (1962).

Best Known For…

James Arness is best known for portraying the iconic role of Marshal Matt Dillon. In 1955, he made his debut on television as Matt Dillon on the western television series 'Gunsmoke'. For the next two decades, James played the stalwart Marshal Dillon on one of the most popular shows in TV history.
The show garnered widespread fame for James Arness and was the longest-running American television series by the time the show aired its final season in 1975. James Arness reprised his lead role in all 20 seasons of 'Gunsmoke' and later again for a series of movie adaptations of the hit show.

Charity Work

Arness has been described by acquaintances and friends as a generous and well-liked personality. Evidence of his generous nature was giving away a large property that had been home to his family.
In 1960, James Arness bought a vast ranch for around $2 million in Simi Valley, California. The ranch sits on about 1400 acres (566.6 ha) of land, now owned by the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. He donated the ranch after his children had grown up because he saw no need for it and felt the neighboring youth camp for Jewish children would utilize the property more effectively.

What Awards had James Arness won?

James Arness has been bestowed many honors for his service in the army, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was also recognized as an honorary United States Marshal for his contribution to the image of the United States Marshals Service.
He has received numerous awards and nominations for his work in television and film. Arness was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Awards three times for his performance in 'Gunsmoke'. He won a Golden Boot Award in 1986. On February 8, 1960, Arness was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame in Los Angeles at 1751 Vine Street.
James Arness was named an honorary citizen of Tucson, Arizona where he had shot extensively for 'Gunsmoke' and other projects. In 1989, Arness was named number six in 'Top 25 Stars in Television' on the 50th-anniversary issue of People's Magazine.

James Arness’ Hobbies And Interests

James Arness loved to surf. After dismissal from the Army, Arness used to spend most of his time doing theater or surfing at the San Onofre Beach in California. His love for the sport was also shared by his son Rolf.
Arness also enjoyed outdoor activities like skiing.

Other Interesting James Arness Facts And Trivia

Here are a few fun facts about the accomplished actor!
It was H.C Potter, the director of Arness' debut film who gave him the idea to adopt the stage name 'James Arness' by dropping the 'u' from his surname 'Aurness'.
In 1949, Arness appeared in 'Battleground', a film that got nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
As Arness was of Norwegian-German descent, he had naturally blond hair. For the role of Matt Dillon, he had to dye his hair black to achieve a more 'masculine' look.
By the time 'Gunsmoke' went off the air, James Arness was one of four actors from the original cast to have stayed till the end of the series.
Arness' role Zeb Macahan in 'How the West Was Won' grew to cult status in Europe and was rebroadcast multiple times in France, Italy, Sweden, and Germany.
In September 2001, the actor published an autobiography titled 'James Arness: An Autobiography'. It contained a foreword by former 'Gunsmoke' co-actor Burt Reynolds.
James Arness was laid to rest at the same location as stars like Michael Jackson.
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James Arness Birthday & Fun Facts Facts

Birth Name

James Aurness

Date of Birth


Date of Death




Place of Birth



200 cm

Child Star?





West High School

Net Worth



Janet Surtees


Ruth Duesler, Rolf Cirkler Aurness


Peter Graves
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Written by Oluniyi Akande

Doctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

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Oluniyi AkandeDoctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

With an accomplished background as a Veterinarian, SEO content writer, and public speaker, Oluniyi brings a wealth of skills and experience to his work. Holding a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan, he provides exceptional consulting services to pet owners, animal farms, and agricultural establishments. Oluniyi's impressive writing career spans over five years, during which he has produced over 5000 high-quality short- and long-form pieces of content. His versatility shines through as he tackles a diverse array of topics, including pets, real estate, sports, games, technology, landscaping, healthcare, cosmetics, personal loans, debt management, construction, and agriculture.

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