Stunt double Ben Bates, best known for his work substituting for Gunsmoke star James Arness for more than 25 years, died Oct. 4 in Sun City, California, according to his family. He was 84.
Bates’s long career included doubling spots for the television series How the West Was Won (for which he was also a stunt coordinator), McClain’s Law, Bosom Buddies, The Fall Guy and Matt Houston. He also appeared in the film The Legend of the Lone Ranger and the TV movies The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory and Red River.
Gunsmoke was once the longest-running scripted show in television history until being overtaken by The Simpsons in the last few years. The western ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975, producing 635 episodes.
The long-time stunt double was quoted in 2001’s James Arness: An Autobiography, noting that each year, Arness “would make them pay me more money, and the outstanding wy he treated me is something I will never forget.”
As proof of their bond, Arness also gave Bates the .45 gun that he used for years on the show. “You mean more to me than putting this into a museum somewhere,” Arness told him. Bates said, “You can imagine how that made me feel.”
Bates received a Silver Spur Award last year from Janet Arness, the actor’s widow, at the annual Reel Cowboys event in Studio City. Members of the Arness family also attended Bates’s memorial service this month.
A native of Texas who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, Bates spent some time as the Marlboro Man in print and television ads after being spotted at a competition at the Chicago Rodeo in 1967. Later, he served two terms as president of the Junior Rodeo Association of California.
Survivors include his fiancée, Valerie; children Bliss, Brandon, Eddie and Ben Jr.; and brothers Charles and Bill. Donations in his name can be made to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch.