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Thursday 22 February 2018

Gilligan 'professor' Johnson dies

Russell Johnson during the filming of a two-hour reunion show, The Return From Gilligan's Island (AP)
Russell Johnson during the filming of a two-hour reunion show, The Return From Gilligan's Island (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.

Johnson, 89, who died at his home in Washington state, was a busy but little-known character actor when he was cast in the slapstick 1960s US 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, shortwave 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 working 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.

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 analysed the show's lasting appeal, saying: "Parents are happy to have their children watch it. 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, but harboured 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 holidaying 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," Wells said last night.

Before Gilligan's Island, Johnson 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 favourites 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.

Johnson remained active into the late 1990s, appearing on such shows as My Two Dads, Dynasty and Newhart.

Survivors include his wife and daughter.


Press Association

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