Childhood & Early Life
William Dennis Weaver was born on June 4, 1924, in Joplin, Missouri, to Walter Leon Weaver and his wife, Lenna Leora Prather. His father was of English, Irish, Scottish, Cherokee, and Osage descent.
For several years, William lived in Shreveport, Louisiana. He then moved to Manteca, California, for a brief period. He first attended the 'Missouri Southern State University' (formerly 'Joplin Junior College') and then joined the 'University of Oklahoma' to study dramatics.
William was a record-setting track star at the 'University of Oklahoma.' During World War II, he served in the ‘United States Navy’ as a pilot of the 'Vought F4U Corsair' fighter aircraft. He participated in the 1948 US ‘Olympic' under the moniker “Billy D. Weaver” and finished at the sixth position in the decathlon category.
William always wanted to be an actor. Thus, after performing terribly in the 'Olympics,' he decided to stay in New York and become an actor instead.
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William began his acting career as a covering artist for Lonny Chapman for the role of ‘Turk Fisher’ in the ‘Broadway’ hit 'Come Back, Little Sheba.' However, he later took over the role for the national touring company.
William joined the 'Actors Studio' and simultaneously did several odd jobs, such as selling vacuum cleaners, tricycles, and women's hosiery to ensure a regular flow of income. At the 'Actors Studio,' he met Shelley Winters, who got William a contract from 'Universal Studios' in 1952.
Unfortunately, 'Universal' did little to fetch prominent projects for William. Hence, he worked as a freelancer in films and on TV until he got his breakthrough role. He made his film debut with the 1953 ‘Technicolor’ Western 'The Redhead from Wyoming.'
William got several movies for the next 3 years but still had to continue with odd jobs. Following this, he bagged his first prominent role in the radio and TV Western drama series 'Gunsmoke,' in which he played ‘Chester Goode.’ His remarkable performance as a limping military assistant in the highest-rated and longest-running live-action American series earned him the 'Emmy Award' for the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ in 1959.
'Gunsmoke's success earned him several more TV roles. He played ‘Commander B.D. Clagett’ in an episode of the syndicated anthology 'The Silent Service' and a supporting role in the 1958 film noir 'Touch of Evil.' In 1972, William ventured into music and released his first album under 'Im'press Records LP.' Around the same time, he launched his own record label, ‘Just Good Records.’
William was seen in the anthologies 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' in 1960 and 'The Twilight Zone' in 1961. From 1964 to 1965, he played a veterinarian in the 'NBC' comedy–drama 'Kentucky Jones,' before he got the roles of ‘Willard Grange’ in the 1966 Western 'Duel at Diablo' and ‘Tom Wedloe’ in the 'CBS' family series 'Gentle Ben' (1967 to 1969).
William earned two more 'Emmy Award' nominations, for his performance as the New Mexico deputy marshal ‘Sam McCloud’ in the 'NBC' police drama 'McCloud' (1970 to 1977). In 1971, he reprised the role in the show's TV movie version directed by Steven Spielberg. From 1973 to 1975, William served as the president of the 'Screen Actors Guild.'
In 1977, William played an abusive husband in the TV movie 'Intimate Strangers,' which was one of the first TV projects that showed domestic violence. In 1978, he appeared as the trail boss ‘RJ Poteet’ in the miniseries 'Centennial.'
In the 1980s, William appeared in titular roles in two 'ABC' series, as ‘Sgt. Daniel Stone,’ a detective-turned-crime novelist, in the police drama 'Stone' and as a Texan surgeon and rancher in the medical drama 'Buck James.' He had the lead role of ‘Rear Admiral Thomas Mallory’ in 22 episodes (1983–1984) of the 'CBS' series 'Emerald Point N.A.S.'
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Additionally, William featured in several acclaimed TV movies that decade, such as 'Amber Waves' (1980). The same year, he shared screen space with his son, Robert, in the short-lived 'NBC' police series 'Stone' and played Dr. Samuel Mudd, the Lincoln assassination convict, in 'The Ordeal Of Doctor Mudd.'
In 1983, he portrayed a cocaine-addicted real-estate agent in 'Cocaine: One Man's Seduction' and delivered an acclaimed performance as an illiterate man in the 1987 film 'Bluffing It.' In February 2002, he voiced the character ‘Buck McCoy’ in the animated series 'The Simpsons.'
He directed four episodes of ‘Gunsmoke’ and one episode of ‘McCloud.’ He also produced ‘Dennis Weaver's Earthship: Documentary’ and the TV movie ‘The Return of Sam McCloud.’
William's last TV appearance was as ‘Henry Ritter’ in the 'ABC' family series 'Wildfire.' His tenure in the series was cut short due to his death.
In 1981, William was honored with the 'Bronze Wrangler Award' and a mention in the 'Hall of Great Western Performers' at the 'National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum' in Oklahoma City. He has a 'Hollywood Walk of Fame' “star.”
Family, Personal Life, & Death
William was married to Gerry Stowell and had three sons: Richard, Robert, and Rustin Weaver. He became a vegetarian in 1958 and later turned to yoga and meditation. He was an ardent follower of Paramahansa Yogananda of the 'Self-Realization Fellowship' in the US.
William believed in preserving the environment, which is exemplified by his home in Ridgway, Colorado, which he had named ''Earthship.'' Built and designed by architect Michael Reynolds, the house is made of recycled material and has solar power systems and other eco-technologies installed in it.
In an attempt to promote awareness about dangerous environmental hazards, William established 'The Institute of Ecolonomics' (ecology and economics) in 1993 in Berthoud, Colorado, as a way to find solutions to economic and environmental problems.
William founded the non-profit organization 'Love Is Feeding Everyone' (LIFE). He was active in politics, too, and organized and raised funds for George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaigns. William was highly active in the annual 'Genesis Awards' committee. He was a staunch ‘Democrat’ throughout his life.
William died of cancer in Ridgway, Colorado, on February 24, 2006.
The producer of 'Gunsmoke' wanted to cast William as ‘Chester’ since the beginning. Unfortunately, he could not contact him to convey this. William, however, showed up to audition, much to the producer's surprise.
Though he had never heard the radio show ever before, William still delivered ‘Chester's "inane" dialog through his best method delivery. Though the performance disappointed him, the producer asked William to add a comic element to the dialogue delivery. This gave his performance an edge.