Miss Kitty never actually died on the Gunsmoke series – Amanda Blake’s character simply disappeared and was replaced with Fran Ryan’s Miss Hannah.
Gunsmoke featured hundreds of characters in its 20-year run, but the core characters like Matt Dillon, Doc Adams, Festus and Miss Kitty are what really kept fans coming back for more.
Miss Kitty did leave Gunsmoke one season before it was cancelled, but her character was never officially killed off in the show.
The importance of Gunsmoke’s core cast members
Over the course of Gunsmoke’s 20 years on the air, the show saw hundreds of recurring and special guest stars, who would appear and disappear from the show quite frequently.
Although this revolving door talent kept the show interesting and fresh for twenty seasons (and even helped to give some actors their start in Hollywood, à la Beau Bridges, Richard Dreyfuss, Jodie Foster and Harrison Ford), it could have made Gunsmoke feel ungrounded if not for its core cast, who kept everything together and running smoothly.
How did Miss Kitty die on Gunsmoke?
The Gunsmoke regulars included the show’s front-man Matt Dillon (played by James Arness), his right-hand man, Festus Haggen (played by Ken Curtis), resident physician Doc Adams (who was portrayed by Milburn Stone) and the fan-favorite saloon owner, Miss Kitty (played by Amanda Blake).
These characters were all charged with holding down the fort (and most of the storyline) of this incredibly popular show.
Blake joined the Gunsmoke cast as the now infamous and straight-shooting character, Miss Kitty, from the very first episode of the show in 1955.
She almost managed to stay the course, only deciding to part ways with Gunsmoke in 1974 (one year before Gunsmoke’s eventual cancellation).
Blake’s real-life death ended up becoming such a controversy that it can be difficult to remember exactly what happened to Miss Kitty in the show. Miss Kitty’s final appearance on Gunsmoke was in the 1974 episode, titled “The Disciple”.
Although the character disappeared from the show without any real explanation when Blake left, she was never actually killed off, as she reappeared just a few years later in the Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge spin-off film, which was released in 1987.
The Gunsmoke producers tried to fill the void left by Miss Kitty’s unexplained departure from the show by introducing a new character, called Miss Hannah (played by Fran Ryan). Miss Hannah took over as the saloon owner in the final season of the show.
And although she was also later included in the Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge film, this character just never managed to climb into the hearts of fans the way that Miss Kitty did.
Miss Kitty was one of the most-featured characters on the show
By the time that Blake decided to leave Gunsmoke in 1974, Miss Kitty had become an integral part of the show’s plot as Matt Dillon’s main love-interest (though they famously never kissed on-screen).
All in all, Miss Kitty was featured in 19 seasons and made an appearance in well over 500 individual episodes of Gunsmoke.
This made her one of the most-featured characters throughout the show’s history, even though she was only featured in the first of five spin-off films later on.
Why did Amanda Blake decide to leave Gunsmoke?
When it was announced that Blake would be parting ways with Gunsmoke, the actress revealed that she was simply tired from all of her years of filming and commuting, and that she needed a change.
However, the rumor mill at the time strongly suggested that health concerns had been plaguing the actress for some time.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be true and Blake passed away a while later in 1989, at the age of 60.
Blake’s death was initially believed to attributable to cancer, but it was later revealed that she had actually suffered liver failure brought on by CMV hepatitis, and other AIDS-related complications.
What Amanda Blake thought of Gunsmoke’s unexpected cancellation
Over the years, many hardcore Miss Kitty fans have speculated that Blake’s exit from the show contributed to its unexpected cancellation just a year later.
Although the exact reasons for Gunsmoke’s cancellation are still widely debated, Blake (who evidently shared many of her character’s humorous and sassy traits) seems to have agreed.
The actress reportedly jokingly stated that “The show only lasted one more year without me.” However, just because Blake left the show, it does not mean that she was happy when its cancellation was announced.
David R. Greenland, the author of The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television’s Greatest Western revealed that she jokingly threatened to harm CBS President, William Paley, after hearing about Gunsmoke’s cancellation.