The reason for Sam’s sudden disappearance on Gunsmoke was Glenn Strange’s real-life death, and this was only revealed a year later.
Gunsmoke was on the air for so long that the show managed to rack up quite an impressive cast list over the years.
The show’s star, James Arness, had to convince Glenn Strange to join this list. But once he was established as the bartender, Sam, he continued working on the show until he passed away in real life, and the character eventually died off-screen.
Gunsmoke’s impressive cast list
Gunsmoke still holds the title of one of the longest-running television shows in history. And with over 600 total episodes, spanning across 20 seasons, the show is still regarded as one of the most successful western television dramas today.
Throughout the 20 years that Gunsmoke was on the air, the show not only featured its own core cast of characters, but also over a hundred other recurring and special celebrity guest roles.
Some of the celebrities who guest-starred on Gunsmoke could only carve out space for one episode in their busy schedules, but others returned to their roles time and time again and eventually became regular fixtures in the show’s cast list.
How was Sam written out of Gunsmoke?
Glenn Strange was one of these fairly well-established actors. He eventually became such an integral part of the Gunsmoke story, which is was difficult to imagine Miss Kitty’s saloon without this mild-mannered bartender, Sam Noonan.
Before Strange had signed on to join Gunsmoke, he had already had a somewhat successful career in the entertainment industry.
The actor landed roles in The Hurricane Express (alongside John Wayne), the Hopalong Cassidy franchise, and other westerns like The Lone Ranger and The Adventures of Kit Carson.
However, Strange eventually agreed to mosey on over to the Gunsmoke set after the series’ lead actor, James Arness convinced him to give it a try.
Although this brief encounter with Arness happened in 59, Strange was not immediately cast as the (now infamous) bartender until years later.
The actor got his start on this wildly successful show as a fairly minor character in the “Old Faces” episode and even took it back to his own cowboy roots for the “Melinda Miles” before he debuted as Sam.
Strange officially debuted the role of Sam in the seventh season of Gunsmoke. He ended up enjoying the role so much that Gunsmoke actually became the very last program that he worked on before his death in 1973.
While Strange continued to work on Gunsmoke for as long as he possibly could, his death sent shockwaves through the entire set.
It was so bad that the show did not initially offer much of an explanation about why Sam left after the “The Hanging of Newly O’Brien” episode.
But, about a year later, in 1974, Floyd (Sam’s replacement), revealed to the public that he passed away off-screen.
How long was Glenn Strange on Gunsmoke?
After Strange landed the role of Sam in 1961, he continued to appear in the show occasionally for another 12 years. In fact, Sam even appeared in about five Gunsmoke episodes which only aired after the actor’s death.
All in all, Sam appeared in over 220 episodes of Gunsmoke (which is almost a third of the show’s total episode tally).
These appearances were spread out across 12 of the show’s seasons, until he eventually resigned on account of his ailing health, shortly before his death.
Glenn Strange’s lasting legacy
Although many of the Gunsmoke cast have passed away since the show ended in 1975, Strange was one of the only cast members who passed away while the show was still filming.
Strange’s passing had a profound effect on many of his Gunsmoke co-stars, including Buck Taylor (who named his son after the late actor) and Amanda Blake (who reportedly stated that Strange’s passing was part of the reason why she left the show).
Strange’s work, not only as Sam in Gunsmoke, but also as the Frankenstein monster, certainly lives on to this day
Why Glenn was so strangely perfect for the role of Sam
At this point, Strange has become so synonymous with the role of Sam on Gunsmoke, that it is difficult to say where one begins and the other ends.
Strange certainly came into the role with many of the right characteristics, and he even had experience as a real-life cowboy.
But there were also many aspects of the character which were based on Strange’s real-life experiences.
This includes the fact that his father used to work as a bartender and his incredible fiddle-playing abilities, which were written into the show especially for him.