Everett Collection
Kate Ward
June 03, 2011 AT 06:02 PM EDT

James Arness, the actor who gave life to Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, has passed away. According to the Los Angeles Times, Arness died of natural causes in Brentwood, Calif., at the age of 88.

The actor helped lead the charge when it came to TV Westerns, appearing in Gunsmoke‘s first episode back in 1955. It would hardly be its last — the show became one of the longest-running in television history, only surpassed by The Simpsons. Even after the show’s cancellation in 1975, Arness appeared in five Gunsmoke movies, with Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice being his last project.

The 6-foot-7 actor — known for both his physical height and dominating presence on-screen — also picked up critical acclaim for his work on the show. The Emmys honored him with three nominations. His renowned work in the long-running series also won him a role in the TV mini-series How the West Was Won, in which he played Zeb Macahan.

Before working in Westerns, Arness appeared in science fiction films like Them! and The Thing From Another World. He also appeared in several films with the Duke himself, John Wayne: Island in the Sky, Hondo, The Sea Chase, and Big Jim McLain.

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