‘Gunsmoke’ Star Amanda Blake Pretended ‘Everything Was OK’ Despite Being Sick And Leaving Hollywood

Jun 17, 2022 by apost team

Amanda Blake was an iconic actress. She first stepped on the scene in the 1940s and proved to be a real talent in film before making her way to television. Although her career was somewhat short-lived, her legacy has continued to live on as many of Blake’s other works have left lasting impressions on the world.

Blake was born Beverly Louise Neill on Feb. 20, 1929, in Buffalo, New York. She was an only child and, at first, grew up to work as a telephone operator before attending Pomona College. Afterward, she found her way to what became her recognized career: acting.

Blake went on to appear in several films and television shows during her career, but is most remembered for her role as the red-haired saloon employee turned half-owner Miss Kitty Russell on the western TV series “Gunsmoke.” The show started out as a radio show before turning to television, where it aired from 1955 to 1975. Blake worked on the show until 1974, starring in her role for a total of 19 seasons.

On top of this, Blake also had a very eventful personal life filled with multiple marriages and a huge passion for helping animals. However, she also had some health issues and struggled to keep up with a Hollywood lifestyle.

Eventually, Blake seemingly faded away from the limelight despite her hopeful ambition to keep working, leaving many people to wonder what exactly had happened to the successful star. She passed away on Aug. 16, 1989, at the age of 60. Read on to find out more about Blake’s long-lasting legacy.

Amanda Blake (circa 1960), (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Beginning in the late 1940s, Blake found her way to make it big in the world of entertainment. She was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and quickly began appearing in several films. Some of her most notable works include the 1952 western film  “Cattle Town” and the 1954 musical drama “A Star is Born” alongside Judy Garland and James Mason. The film was an adaptation of the 1937 version, and has since been remade in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and again in 2018 with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

While working in film is what initially helped establish Blake’s career, it was her 19-year turn as the saloon-keeper Miss Kitty on the TV series “Gunsmoke” that brought her an endless amount of fame. “I knew I had to have the part of Kitty, so I hounded the producer until I got it,” she said, as per the New York Times. Blake portrayed the role from 1955 to 1974, when she left the series a season before it came to an end.

Even though “Gunsmoke” further catapulted Blake into stardom, its busy schedule left her with little time to work on films. Instead, she went on to make appearances on “Hart to Hart,” “The Red Skelton Show” and “Love Boat.” Blake later made her return to film in movies such as “The Boost” and “B.O.R.N.” in 1988.

Blake had also seemingly gone into semi-retirement as she shifted her focus more toward aspects of her personal life. During her life, Blake was married a total of five times, according to PEOPLE. However, none of her marriages lasted very long aside from her marriage to Frank Gilbert, which spanned 15 years.


Milburn Stone, James Arness, Ken Curtis, Amanda Blake (1964), (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

The actress also had a true love for caring for animals and began finding innovative ways to help them. She had brought her pet lion, Kemo, to set while filming “Gunsmoke,” and cared for animals at her home. She and Gilbert even ran breeding programs for cheetahs. 

Blake helped form the no-kill animal shelter Arizona Animal Welfare League in 1971 and later became a board member of the Humane Society of the United States. In 1988, she took a trip to Africa to help promote PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society). After she died, she left her entire estate of $400,000 to the organization, according to PEOPLE.

On Aug. 16, 1989, Blake died from a series of health issues. According to the New York Times, she was a heavy smoker and died of oral cancer, something that she previously had surgery for back in 1977. She had also made appearances on behalf of the American Cancer Society, receiving the society’s annual Courage Award in 1984.

However, in November 1989, PEOPLE reported that Blake had actually died from AIDS complications. “Technically she died of liver failure brought on by viral hepatitis, which was AIDS-related,” Dr. Lou Nishimura said. “Once she knew she had it, she decided to keep it to herself.”

Even though she was sick, Blake wanted to work until the very end and had even met with her agent, Steven Stevens, three weeks prior to her death. “Her spirits were up,” he said. “... Up to the end, she wanted to pretend everything was OK.”

Although much of Blake’s life and even aspects of her death are still not very well known, she will always be remembered as Miss Kitty on “Gunsmoke,” and her legacy in western television will continue to inspire many future stars.

Amanda Blake (1986), (Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

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