Ken Curtis, Actor Who Played Festus in Gunsmoke, Dies
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ Ken Curtis, a singer and actor who starred as Marshal Matt Dillon’s sidekick on the long-running television western ″Gunsmoke,″ has died at age 74.
Curtis, who played deputy Festus Haggin from 1963-75, died in his sleep Sunday at his home here, family members said Monday. They said the cause of death was unkown.
In addition to his television roles, Curtis acted with John Wayne in some of Hollywood’s classic films, including ″The Searchers″ and ″The Quiet Man.″
Curtis, whose real name was Curtis Gates, was born in Lamar, Colo. He was the son of a sheriff and worked on a jail farm as a boy.
He made his Hollywood debut in 1938 as a singer with swing bands.
Curtis replaced Frank Sinatra on Tommy Dorsey’s band after Sinatra left to become a solo artist. He then went on to Shep Field’s Orchestra.
Some of his songs included ″Love Sends a Little Gift of Roses,″ ″This Is Worth Fighting For″ and ″Breathless.″
After serving in the Army during World War II, Curtis resumed a singing career on Johnny Mercer’s radio show and recorded the popular ″Tumbling Tumbleweeds.″
Columbia Pictures heard the song and signed Curtis as a singing cowboy. He then joined the group Sons of the Pioneers, of which celebrity Roy Rogers was a member.
After director John Ford hired the Pioneers for the western film, ″Wagon Master,″ Curtis began getting dozens of movie and TV roles.
Other movies he appeared included ″The Alamo,″ ″How the West Was Won,″ ″Mr. Roberts″ and ″Cheyenne Autumn.″ He also had roles in TV’s ″Rawhide,″ ″Perry Mason″ and ″Have Gun, Will Travel.″
Curtis is survived by his wife and two children.