Entertainment News

  • 19 January 2014, 1:29

Gilligan's Island 'Professor' Russell Johnson Dies

American actor Russell Johnson, best known to generations of TV fans as The Professor from the 1960s show Gilligan's Island, has died at age 89.

He died at his home in Washington State of natural causes, said his agent, Mike Eisenstadt.

Johnson was a busy but little-known character actor when he was cast in the slapstick comedy about seven people marooned on an uncharted Pacific island.

He played high school science teacher Roy Hinkley, known to his fellow castaways as The Professor.

There was seemingly nothing he could not do when it came to building generators, short-wave radios and other contraptions from scraps of flotsam and jetsam he found on the island.

But, as Johnson would joke years later, the one thing The Professor never accomplished was figuring out how to patch the hole in the bottom of the SS Minnow so the group could get back to civilisation.

During its three-season run on CBS, critics repeatedly lambasted the show as insipid.

But after its cancellation in 1967, it found generations of new fans in reruns and reunion movies.

In a 2004 interview, Johnson analysed the show's lasting appeal.

"Parents are happy to have their children watch it," he said. "No one gets hurt. No murders. No car crashes. Just good, plain, silly fun - that's the charm."

Johnson, Dawn Wells and Tina Louise were the last of the cast's survivors.

Wells played vacationing farm girl Mary Ann Summers and Louise was sexy movie star Ginger Grant.

"Russell was a true gentleman, a dear friend with a fantastic wit, and a wonderful actor," Wells said after Johnson's death.

Before Gilligan's Island, Johnson had appeared in dozens of films and television shows.

His numerous TV credits included 77 Sunset Strip, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Wagon Train, The Lone Ranger and The Twilight Zone, among many others.

In the 1953 Western Law and Order, Johnson took part in a gunfight with the film's star and future US President Ronald Reagan.

The Pennsylvania native joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and served as a B-24 bombardier on missions over the Pacific war zone.

He broke his ankles in 1945 when his plane was shot down over the Philippine island of Mindanao.

Johnson married actress Kay Cousins after leaving the Army, and the couple had a son, David, and a daughter, Kim.

His wife died in 1980, and his son, a prominent Los Angeles AIDS activist, died of the disease in 1994.

After remarrying, Johnson and wife Constance Dane moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1988.

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