Why did Milburn Stone leave Gunsmoke for a while? And, when did Milburn Stone leave Gunsmoke?
Hugh Milburn Stone was a popular US actor throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and is most famously known for his portrayal of Dr. Galen Adams on the iconic CBS Western series, Gunsmoke.
The Western cult classic carries an impressive legacy, having been nominated for 16 Primetime Emmy awards throughout its time on air.
It was also the number-one ranked show on television worldwide for 5 consecutive years.
Up until the 21st season premiere of the hit show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Gunsmoke had held the record as the longest-running live-action TV series on primetime television.
It ran for a whopping 20 seasons, across two decades.
Eventually, the original Law & Order and The Simpsons would surpass it, but Gunsmoke is still ranked as one of the top 5 longest-running television series across the globe.
So why would Milburn Stone leave a show with that level of longevity and success?
Read on to find out.
Meet the doctor
Hugh Milburn Stone was born on July 4, 1904.
He was the son of Herbert and Laura Stone, and was raised in their hometown of Burrton, Kansas.
Milburn—who went by Hugh at the time—attended Burrton High School alongside his brother Joe.
Throughout high school, Stone was an outgoing and charismatic kid.
He was part of his school drama club and performed as part of a barbershop quartet, as well as being on the basketball team.
Stone was also close to his uncle—Fred Stone. Fred was a Broadway actor in the late 1800s and at the start of the 1900s.
While Milburn Stone’s career as an actor started as far back as 1919, with his stage debut at a tent show in Kansas, he would move on to Broadway and then to Hollywood in the 1930s.
He appeared in movies like Young Mr. Lincoln and When Tomorrow Comes, followed by Chasing Trouble and Colorado.
With several minor roles throughout the 1930s and 40s, it would be 1955 when Stone got his big break.
Milburn was 51 years old at the time, and had already lost his first wife—Ellen—in 1937.
He had gone on to marry another Kansas girl, Jane Garrison, although the pair divorced a year later.
When Gunsmoke made the transition from radio to television in 1955, some of the cast were traded in for more “screen-friendly” actors.
Milburn Stone replaced Howard McNear in the role of Doctor Galen “Doc” Adams.
It was a role that Stone would play for 605 episodes of the hit series—almost the entire 20-year period that the show was running.
It would garner him an Emmy award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama in 1968.
Throughout the show’s time on television, Stone had reconnected with—and remarried—his ex-wife, Jane Garrison.
Why did Milburn Stone leave Gunsmoke for a while?
So, why did Milburn Stone leave Gunsmoke? Milburn Stone would eventually become one of Gunsmoke’s most iconic and recognizable cast members over the 20 years he was on the show.
But there was a notable absence in 1971, when fans noticed Doc was looking a little bit different.
Doc Adams’ character was traded out for a new character named Dr. Chapman.
Chapman, played by Pat Hingle, would appear in 7 episodes of the show.
While it wasn’t common knowledge at the time, Milburn Stone had suffered a heart attack on March 9, 1971.
He was hospitalized following the cardiac event and waited two months before he was able to undergo life-saving heart surgery.
According to the Birmingham News newspaper at the time, Milburn received bypass grafts to his coronary arteries, in the hopes that they would improve blood supply to his heart.
Did Milburn Stone ever come back to Gunsmoke?
After recovering at home with his wife, Stone returned to the set of Gunsmoke in the fall of 1971.
Pat Hingle’s character, Dr. Chapman, was written out of the show on his return.
While fans were relieved to see the return of a show favorite, by the end of Gunsmoke’s two decades on air, there had only been one cast member to have appeared in every episode: James Arness.
James Arness played the show’s main character, Matt Dillon.
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What happened to MS?
Four years after Milburn’s return to the most long-running show in history—up until Law & Order: SVU claimed the title decades later—Gunsmoke came to an end.
That year, 1975, Stone would be awarded an honorary doctorate in Dodge City, Kansas—where Gunsmoke was set.
He would also receive a painting of his Gunsmoke character, Doc Adams, from artist and painter Gary Hawk.
When Ronald Reagan, a long-time friend of Milburn’s, heard the news of the painting, he invited Hawk to the White House to present it in person.
Several years later, Milburn would see his friend Reagan become the front-running Republican nominee for the presidency of the US.
Sadly, Stone did not live to see Ronald Reagan become president of the US in November of that year—he died of a heart attack in La Jolla, California, in June 1980.
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