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Subject: Archive: Ken Curtis, Apr. 28, 1991

Actor ("Festus")
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Date Posted: Tuesday, April 28, 01:16:31pm

FRESNO, Calif. -- Actor Ken Curtis, who as a youngster worked in his father's Colorado jail and went on to portray a scruffy deputy named Festus on 'Gunsmoke,' has died. He was 74.

Curtis, found dead by his wife when she awoke Sunday, had been in apparent good health, attending a rodeo Saturday. The cause of his death has not been determined.

Curtis replaced Dennis Weaver as Matt Dillon's deputy in 1964 in a role he held until 'Gunsmoke' -- the most enduring Western series in TV history -- went off the air in 1975.

Most viewers who knew him as the seedy, unwashed deputy with a droopy hat would probably have been surprised to learn about the actor's previous career -- as a big band singer, crooning ballads such as 'Love Sends a Little Gift of Roses' after Tommy Dorsey hired him in 1941 to replace Frank Sinatra.

It was Dorsey who recommended he change his name to Ken Curtis from Curtis Gates.

After his big band days, Curtis continued to sing with the Sons of the Pioneers western group.

Director John Ford hired those vocalizing cowboys for a soundtrack of his 1950 'Wagonmaster' and Curtis afterward became a stock player with Ward Bond, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. in the legendary Ford-John Wayne collaboration.
Born July 2, 1916, in Lamar, Colo., Curtis -- whose first wife was Ford's daughter Barbara -- began his acting career in the late 1940s, starring in low-budget westerns and appearing as a supporting player in some top films, including 'Mr. Roberts.'

Along with 'Gunsmoke,' his television work included a co-starring role as a sky diver in 'Ripcord' from 1961 to 1963.
In playing Festus Haggen on 'Gunsmoke,' Curtis was able to borrow on some of his own life experiences -- his father was sheriff of Las Animas, Colo., when Curtis was a child.
'I was 12 when Dad was elected,' he told United Press International in a 1967 interview. 'Our living quarters were on the ground floor and the cells were upstairs.

Mother used to cook the meals for the prisoners and I took them up the cells while she held a shotgun in her hands in case any of them got frisky.'

Survivors include his wife, Torrie, and her two children by a previous marriage. The family asked that contributions in his name be made to the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif.

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Widow Torrie died Nov. 2, 1997, at 68ObitTuesday, April 28, 01:17:44pm

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