Chester left Gunsmoke rather unexpectedly at the end of the “Bently” episode in the ninth season of the show.
Gunsmoke may have centered on Matt Dillon, but the supporting cast was a large part of the reason why the show was so successful.
Chester Goode was Matt Dillon’s right-hand man in the first nine seasons of the show. This was until he left the main story to find some answers about a mysterious deathbed confession.
The importance of the Gunsmoke supporting cast
Marshal Matt Dillon, the charming but tough Dodge City lawman, may have been the undisputed star of the Gunsmoke television show. But this does not mean that he would have been able to carry the show all on his own.
During Gunsmoke’s 20-season on-air run, the show featured over 100 different characters. Some of these characters challenged Matt and others befriended him.
But there is absolutely no doubt that the show would not have been nearly as successful if it were not for its supporting cast.
How did Chester leave Gunsmoke?
One of the characters who supported Matt the most during his escapades was his reliable right-hand man, Chester Goode.
Chester, who was played by actor, Dennis Weaver, was an integral part of the narrative from the very first season of Gunsmoke.
As Matt’s deputy and closest confidant, Chester was often caught up in all of the same dramas and conundrums as the show’s lead and he quickly became a fan-favorite character.
Unfortunately, unlike many of the other supporting cast members on the show, Chester was only featured in the first 9 seasons of Gunsmoke, before being written out.
Weaver’s very last episode as Chester on Gunsmoke was titled “Bently” and it aired in 1964.
In this episode, Chester witnesses Ned Wright’s deathbed murder confession, but he instantly doubts whether this confession is true, or whether it is just a last-ditch attempt by a dying husband to help his ostracized wife.
Chester continued to investigate the case, even after Ned’s passing, and although this was never explicitly explained in the show, it is believed that Chester ultimately leaves Dodge City (never to be seen on Gunsmoke ever again) to find out what really happened.
Though Chester leaving the show devastated many Gunsmoke fans, at the time, Weaver later revealed that his character’s departure was actually all his idea.
Chester was eventually replaced with a new deputy called Festus, who ended up becoming a fan-favorite character in his own right.
Why did Dennis Weaver leave Gunsmoke?
Weaver won an Emmy in 1959 for the role of Chester, which made it all the more shocking when the character disappeared from the show just a few years later.
But Weaver revealed in later interviews that he decided to leave Gunsmoke so that he could focus on other projects.
Weaver felt like he had “exhausted all creative possibilities with the character” by this point in the show. And he was afraid that continuing to play Matt’s sidekick would typecast him into this kind of role for the rest of his career.
Dennis Weaver playing the sidekick was always a problem
Chester ended up appearing in 290 episodes of Gunsmoke, but Weaver’s incredible talent and strong charisma almost prevented him from landing the role in the beginning.
There were concerns that Weaver’s Chester would be too much of a distraction from the show’s real leading man, even before he was cast.
And ultimately, the Gunsmoke producer, Charles Marquis Warren, and Weaver came up with the idea of giving Chester his now infamous limp to solidify him as the sidekick in the narrative.
Chester’s limp was always a controversial character choice. Weaver also admitted later on that navigating a set with a stiff leg for nine years may just have subconsciously contributed to his decision to leave.
What did Dennis Weaver do after leaving Gunsmoke?
Weaver’s decision to leave one of television’s most popular shows at the height of its success was definitely daring, but fortunately, it had just the effect that he was hoping for.
Instead of simply being known as Matt Dillon’s sidekick for the rest of his career, Weaver starred in an NBC comedy-drama, just a few months later.
Kentucky Jones only ran for one year between 1964 and 1965, but this role helped to pivot Weaver’s career in an entirely new direction.
Weaver went on to secure roles in McCloud, Duel, Intimate Strangers and many more, and eventually passed away in 2006, at the age of 81.