8 fascinating things you never knew about Dennis Weaver

The man behind Chester was also a skilled athlete and meditation guru.

Image: The Everett Collection

From Chester to McCloud, the Dennis Weaver had a knack for playing atypical lawmen. Chester walked with a limp and talked with a reedy accent. McCloud was a fish-out-of-water cowboy in the Big Apple. 

In between, Weaver starred on the boy-and-his-bear drama Gentle Ben. You could also find him on everything from The Twilight Zone and Magnum, P.I. He played a major part in the development of Steven Spielberg's career, starring in the gripping 1971 chase film Duel. His skill at playing an "everyman" belied the fact that he was an accomplished athlete and singer. His life away from the camera was rather extraordinary.

Let's take a closer look at Weaver's life and career.

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1. He nearly made the 1948 Olympic team.

Born and raised in southwest Missouri, Weaver was a football star at Joplin High School, played basketball for Joplin Junior College, and eventually became a track star the University of Oklahoma. He represented the Sooners at the 1948 Olympic trials. He placed sixth in the decathlon. Alas, only the top three made Team USA and traveled to London.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. He was delivering flowers and selling pantyhose when he got the Gunsmoke gig.

In Los Angeles, you have to do whatever it takes until you make it. Many wait tables. Weaver sold pantyhose and delivered flowers. He was making $60 a week. Landing the part of Chester bumped him up to $300.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. He based Chester on a kid he knew in college.

Weaver nearly flubbed his audition for Gunsmoke. He found Chester to be too silly on page, so he performed the lines straight. The casting folks were not impressed. He then quickly asked for a do-over. For his second try, Weaver put on a sillier voice. "I remember at the University of Oklahoma there was a kid from Okarche [Oklahoma]… he had such a thick accent you could hardly understand him," Weaver fondly recalled in an interview with TV Legends. "I used to imitate him at parties." Weaver asked the producers, "I think you know what you mean, will you give me another chance?" He then slipped into his party-parody voice and won the part — and got stuck doing the voice for years as Chester.

Image: AP Photo

4. He toured in a singing trio with Milburn Stone and Amanda Blake.

The three Gunsmoke stars teamed up to perform at rodeos in the late 1950s. The actors set an attendance record for the Albuquerque Arena at the New Mexico State Fair in 1960. In the 1970s, Weaver recorded a series of albums that played off his McCloud persona and tapped into his country roots.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. He was a meditation guru.

Weaver was an active member and de facto preacher at the Self-Realization Fellowship's Temple of the Lake Shrine in Los Angeles. The SRF disciple would deliver sermons on the faith. He would speak on topics such as "Habits: Your Master or Your Slave?" He had a specially designed meditation chamber built in his California home. He even drove an orange BMW with vanity license plates reading "GURU JI," according to a People profile in 1975.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Spielberg wanted to cast him because of an Orson Welles movie.

One of Weaver's greatest performances came in Duel, the 1971 feature film debut by Steven Spielberg. "I had always been a fan of Dennis Weaver, because he played the night watchman in Touch of Evil," Spielberg is quoted as saying in the book Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career. "I probably wouldn't have thought of Dennis Weaver, had it not been for Touch of Evil." Weaver had rave reviews for the budding young director. "He was absolutely everything they said that he was, and even more."

Image: The Everett Collection

7. He lived in a house made of recycled tires and cans.

Later in life, Weaver and his wife built a unique home in Ridgway, Colorado. It was one of the trademark "Earthships" designed by Michael Reynolds. There are an estimated 1,000 "Earthships" in existence around the world, ranging from the multi-million dollar luxury home of actor Weaver to village housing in Bolivia. A New Mexico model is seen here. Weaver's house was made out of recycled car tires and metal cans. Weaver wrote in his memoir, "When you build a house out of cans and used automobile tires, it gets a lot of attention."

Image: AP Photo / Eric Draper

8. He died on on the same day as Don Knotts, at the same age.

February 24, 2006, was a sad day for television. Both Weaver and Knotts passed away at the age of 81. The two icons were born close together, as well, weeks apart from one another in 1924.

Image: The Everett Collection

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cperrynaples 23 days ago
One detail about Weaver you should not ignore is his performance in the TZ episode Shadow Play where he is litterally living in an nightmare! Another great show!
Robert 23 days ago
I read that the Chester character was from a class mate that was from Kentucky, not Oklahoma.
RobertGHarding 23 days ago
Another thing I remember Dennis Weaver for was he introduced some of the Movies on Starz/Encore's Western Channel.
Dana 23 days ago
Didn’t he do a movie where there was a semi truck that possessed with something evil chasing him? I love remember a lot of road and mountain scenes. There wasn’t a lot of dialogue. It was a weird movie.
Stoney Dana 23 days ago
Duel. Based on a story by Richard Matheson (who may have also written the script, I don't remember), and directed by none other than Steven Spielberg.
JERRY6 Dana 20 days ago
yeah and Weaver was in a 4 door 6cyl dart that could not outrun the truck
GoUTVols1961 23 days ago
I recall a TV movie, i believe in the 1980's, about a lawyer that becomes addicted to cocaine. Did Dennis Weaver play this part?
lisaiggy 24 days ago
I knew all about Weaver except for the last piece of information. He and Don Knott's died the same day.
RedSkelton 24 days ago
Wild! A football player? And what about that crazy pad he lived in!
wetucker 24 days ago
Thanks for the info. Very interesting. Didn't know he was on Gentle Ben.
Didn't really care for him as Chester or McCloud. Duel was OK.
MikefromJersey 24 days ago
During the opening montage scenes of the theme to McCloud, Weaver is shown hanging from a copter's skids as it lifts off a skyscraper and flies off over Manhattan. That was Weaver!
The stunt man in harness missed his cue to replace Dennis in the shot.
Then with cameras rolling while Dennis waited holding the skid, the pilot lifted off with Dennis
in one quick swoop, off into the NYC skies.
That's him hanging on for dear life, luckily he was in superb condition though I suspect the
same couldn't be said for his drawers afterwards.
That's amazing info..I never realized that
Hi ma2lyssa,
The McCloud opening is on YouTube, I recommend everyone go look, because knowing
he is literally hanging on over NYC, no harness, it is chilling. He had to hang on when the chopper lifted otherwise he would have gone over the side of the skyscraper.
This must be the 2nd greatest stunt in history, after the infamous Gregory Peck episode in
the movie Moby Dick, now that's scary!
Newyorkcitygal 24 days ago
Thank you for the info on Dennis Weaver. I loved him on Gunsmoke and had forgotten he was Mccloud. I use to watch that with my grandma when she would babysit me and my brothers on the weekend.
bewest169 24 days ago
Matt Dillion always had him clean up the bodies he gunned down Chester get the shovel yet was never a dupty
robert bewest169 19 days ago
he worked for dillon for peanuts. often he had to go out chasing outlaws and engage in the gunfights. he should have been made a deputy. who minded the town when those two took off sometime for days on end. it seemed every night there was a troublemaker in the long branch.
AllisonWunderland 24 days ago
I remembered him from Gentle Ben...I loved that show 😉😍
Yep. Used to watch Gentle Ben all the time. Fun show. Riding that air foil in the Everglades and catching those poachers...
Mark 24 days ago
METV aired the NBC Mystery Movie package for 2 years (Jan 2015 to Dec 2016), then COZI aired it from Jan 2017 to Dec 2019. METV has been airing classic Columbo on Sunday nights since January. Has METV also reacquired to rights to the other three series McCloud, McMillan & Wife and Banacek? If so, I hope METV will replace Mannix and Cannon, which have been airing in late night since 2017, in the Fall or Winter with these classic movie series.
AnnieM Mark 24 days ago
Anyone know how many others were part of the NBC Mystery Movie? In addition to the ones Mark mentioned, I remember Hec Ramsey and The Snoop Sisters, but I'm not sure of any others. BTW - who else loved the title music?
CubFan AnnieM 20 days ago
The great Henry Mancini:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KkvS8XLc874
Mac2Nite 24 days ago
Dennis Weaver was a good buddy of actor Guy Williams [Zorro]. Their families would get together for barbeques, etc. They both came up through the studio system at the same time [both had small speaking parts in Tyrone Power's Mississippi Gamber] and both struck fame in the 1950's on TV with signature characters.
Don 24 days ago
So happy, I was able to meet Mr. Weaver and, tell him "Duel" is my favourite movie, of all-time. R.I.P.
booster 24 days ago
Don Knotts and Dennis Weaver died on February 24th, 2006. The following day, actor Darren McGavin died. They always die in 3's.
MichaelNivens 24 days ago
house was In Ridgway , Colorado as I recall , not far from Durango where I was born
AgingDisgracefully 24 days ago
Don't forget the six times (under five different character names) Dennis appeared in 1950's era Dragnet.

On second thought, maybe that's best forgotten.
MaryHelen 24 days ago
i am available for editing-- so many errors!!
JillBaeder0 MaryHelen 21 days ago
Makes me crazy too!!
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