Russell Johnson

  • Born: November 10, 1924
  • Died: January 16, 2014
  • Location: Washington

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This Oct. 2, 1978 file photo shows Russell Johnson, as the professor, posing during filming of a two-hour reunion show, "The Return from Gilligan's Island," in Los Angeles. Johnson died Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, at his home in Washington State of natural causes. He was 89.

'Gilligan's Island' professor has died

FRAZIER MOORE, The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Actor Russell Johnson, who became known to generations of TV fans as "The Professor," the fix-it man who kept his fellow "Gilligan's Island" castaways supplied with gadgets, has died. He was 89.

Johnson died Thursday morning 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 1960s 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 couldn't 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 Russell would joke years later, the one thing The Professor never accomplished was figuring out how to patch the hole in the bottom of the S.S. Minnow so the group could get back to civilization.

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.

One of the most recent of the reunion films was 2001's "Surviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three-Hour Tour in History," in which other actors portrayed the original seven-member cast while Johnson and two other surviving cast members narrated and reminisced.

In a 2004 interview, Johnson analyzed 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."

He admitted he had trouble finding work after "Gilligan's Island," having become typecast as the egg-headed professor. But he harbored no resentment for the show, and in later years he and other cast members, including Bob Denver, who had played the bumbling first mate Gilligan, often appeared together at fan conventions.

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. Besides Denver, the other stars were Alan Hale Jr. as Skipper Jonas Grumby and Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer as snooty millionaires Thurston and Lovey Howell.

"Russell was a true gentleman, a dear friend with a fantastic wit, and a wonderful actor," said Wells in a statement on Thursday.

"The other half of 'The rest' is gone," she said, in a reference to the way her character and The Professor were lumped together in the original version of the show's theme song.

Before "Gilligan's Island," Johnson had appeared in dozens of films and television shows. His TV credits included "77 Sunset Strip," ''Gunsmoke," ''Rawhide," ''Wagon Train," ''The Lone Ranger," ''The Twilight Zone," ''Ben Casey," ''Hawaiian Eye" and "Death Valley Days."

He also appeared in more than two dozen feature films, including "MacArthur," ''The Greatest Story Ever Told" and cult science fiction favorites such as "It Came From Outer Space." In the 1953 Western "Law and Order," he took part in a gunfight with the film's star, Ronald Reagan.

Although he didn't work as often after "Gilligan's Island," Johnson remained active into the late 1990s, appearing on such shows as "My Two Dads," ''Dynasty" and "Newhart."

The future actor was part of a family of seven children raised in Ashley, Pa.

He joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and served as a B-24 bombardier on missions over the Pacific war zone, breaking his ankles in 1945 when his plane was shot down over the Philippine island of Mindanao. He was discharged as a first lieutenant in November 1945, having earned a Purple Heart and other medals.

Upon his discharge, Johnson enrolled at the Actors Lab in Hollywood under the GI Bill. Fellow actor Paul Henreid saw him in a play there and landed him a role as a villain in the film "For Men Only." Until "Gilligan's Island," the ruggedly handsome Johnson often played villains.

He 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 AIDS in 1994.

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

"We didn't intentionally set out to move to an island," the actor, noting the irony, told a reporter in 1993. "We'd lived in Los Angeles for 40 years and just wanted to get away from the heat, the smog and crowds."

From the island he often took a ferry to Seattle to do voice-overs for radio commercials.

It was also on Bainbridge Island that Johnson wrote the memoir "Here on Gilligan's Isle."

Survivors include his wife and daughter.

___

EDITOR'S NOTE — Former AP writer Bob Thomas contributed to this story.


Condolence & Memory Journal

I'm so sorry i loved to watch his show he well be missed. Cristela Gonzalez

Posted by Cristela Gonzalez - Rowlett, TN - fan   August 15, 2014

Thanks Professor for many Gilligan's Island sitcom TV series I loved them as a kid! Thanks also for the many other sitcom appearances! You will be missed by many us out here in TV and movie land!! RIP!

Posted by Charles Grindle - Toledo, OH   May 14, 2014

A very nice man.

Posted by Retarded    March 20, 2014

I grew up w/Gilligands island. It still comes on @ a station here in Charlotte 2 hours every Saturday. I always liked the professor more. Than anyone on that show. He was always the smart one & the peace maker. He will be truly missed.

Posted by Pamela Bolding - gastonia, NC - Fan   January 24, 2014

Candle

I loved The Professor - I watched him in countless episodes of Gilligan's Island. I had a crush on the Professor when I was a little girl! And now, I watch the reruns on TVLand! So long, Professor! May you Rest in Peace on the big Island in the Sky and join your friends Gilligan, The Skipper, and Mr. and Mrs.
Howell!

Posted by Debbie Poore - Dayton, OH - A Fan   January 21, 2014

Candle

"Professor you will be missed, I love watching the reruns of Gilligan's Island!!

Posted by Sherry Mainquist - Norfolk, NE - Fan   January 19, 2014

Candle

he will be sadley miss, my condolences to the family . he was a great actor and loved by all, rest in peace professor.

Posted by kristine wells - derry, NH - fan   January 19, 2014

What a sad day for us 1960s sitcom fans. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers to Mr. Johnson's family and friends. Say hello to Gilligan, Skipper, Mr. and Mrs. Howell for us.

Posted by Tracey Lyles - Washington, DC   January 19, 2014

Candle

As a young girl,I couldn't wait to get home from school to watch Gilligans Island. Had a little girls crush on the Professor . You will be missed by so many. My thoughts and prayers to Mrs. Russell and family.

Posted by Ruby - Mulberry, AR - fan   January 19, 2014

Another true Comedy Greats...You will be missed ..I watched you in so many Gilligan's Island episodes , i cant even count...my Prayers to Russells family and Friends

Posted by Shawn Housseal - Fenwick Island, DE   January 18, 2014

Candle

I loved you Professor! May you R.I.P.

Posted by Allison O'Connor - Lake Mary, FL - Fan   January 17, 2014


Family Album

This Oct. 2, 1978 file photo shows Russell Johnson, as the professor, posing during filming of a two-hour reunion show, "The Return from Gilligan's Island," in Los Angeles. Johnson died Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, at his home in Washington State of natural causes. He was 89.
The cast of "Gilligan's Island" is shown in this 1978 photo. A crowd of 200 packed the Bluefield Holiday Inn Saturday, Dec. 18, 1999, in Bluefield, W.Va.,for an auction that included donations by Bluefield resident Bob Denver, known for his title role in the 1960s TV series. Front row from left are Bob Denver, Dawn Wells and Russell Johnson. Back row from left are Judith Baldwin, Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer and Alan Hale Jr.