Festus did not die in Gunsmoke (although Ken Curtis later died in real life) and was actually featured on the show until its very last episode.
Over the course of the 20 years that Gunsmoke was on the air, the show certainly showcased an interesting cast of regular, recurring and special guest characters.
Festus Haggen may have been introduced as a man out for revenge, but he quickly became Matt Dillon’s right-hand man and a real favorite among Gunsmoke fans.
Festus did not die in the series, and he actually became one of Gunsmoke’s most-featured characters.
Gunsmoke’s interesting cast of characters
Though Gunsmoke ended more than four decades ago, the show still holds a spot on the list of the longest-running shows in television history.
Gunsmoke takes the third place overall, just after The Simpsons, and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, which are both still airing today.
Any show with an episode tally of over 630 is bound to feature some interesting cast members along the way.
Gunsmoke certainly saw a variety of regular, recurring and special guest characters ranging from fan-favorites, to widely-despised, come, go and stay over the course of its 20 seasons.
How did Festus die on Gunsmoke?
Festus Haggen’s entry into Gunsmoke may have not been the most traditional, but it did not take long for this character, played by the talented Ken Curtis, to win over fans.
Festus initially had a rocky start on the show as the somewhat scruffy (even by old western standards) Hillman, who had only vengeance on his mind.
Festus was first introduced sporadically at the end of season eight in order to get fans used to the idea of seeing him on screen, before he officially joined the Gunsmoke cast full time in season nine.
Over time, Festus managed to shake this outsider reputation and he even ended up replacing the beloved Chester Goode as Matt Dillon’s trusted deputy.
As the other Gunsmoke characters learned to trust and connect with Festus throughout the seasons, so too did the Gunsmoke fans. He then quickly became one of the most popular characters on the show (after Miss Kitty, of course).
Although many Gunsmoke fans remember Festus meeting a tragic end on the show, this is likely just due to Ken Curtis’s death in real-life spreading.
In all actuality, Festus remained on the show (and alive) until the very last episode.
In fact, if Gunsmoke had not ended so unexpectedly IN 1975, Festus would have most likely joined Matt Dillon (played by James Arness), Miss Kitty (played by Amanda Blake), Doc Adams (played by Milburn Stone) and the rest of the gang, for an additional few hundred episodes.
Festus was not the only Gunsmoke character that Ken Curtis portrayed
All in all, Festus was featured in over 200 episodes of Gunsmoke. However, Ken Curtis’s appearances in the show ranks much higher.
This is because before Curtis landed the now infamous role of Festus, he actually portrayed four other roles on the show (and then two more, after being cast as Festus).
These characters include Phil Jacks (a cattle driver in “Jayhawkers”), Brisco (featured in “Change of Heart”), Jesse (featured in “The Ex-Urbanites”), Scout (featured in “Speak Me Fair”), Kyle Kelly (featured in “Lover Boy”) and Frank Eaton, the Festus look-alike (who makes a brief appearance in “Alias Festus Haggin”).
About Ken Curtis’s real-life death
Ken Curtis, the actor who has become synonymous with the role of Festus, tragically passed away in real-life in 1991 at the age of 74.
In addition to Curtis’s work on Gunsmoke, which spanned over nine years, he was also known for his roles in “How the West Was Won”, “Have Gun, Will Travel”, “The Quiet Man” and “Perry Mason”, and he was a passionate big band musician to boot.
The accomplished actor and singer passed away peacefully in his sleep from natural causes.
Why was Gunsmoke cancelled so unexpectedly?
The reasons for why Gunsmoke was cancelled so abruptly after its 20th season in 1975 have always remained hazy.
While the studio initially insisted that the show was cancelled on account of an unexpected drop in ratings at the time, some producers later revealed that the show may have been sabotaged with a poor timeslot.
Alternatively, the subject matter simply became too outdated for the studio’s new modern image.
Whatever the actual reasons behind Gunsmoke’s cancellation were, the show remained a fan-favorite.
Furthermore, although it was revived with several spin-off films, Curtis reportedly refused to sign on to any of these films, because of salary and script disagreements.
As a result, the character was never featured in any of the Gunsmoke films which were released after the series ended.