Russell Johnson, the Professor on ‘Gilligan's Island,’ Dead at 89

Russell Johnson, the Professor on 'Gilligan's Island,' Dead at 89

The actor died at his home in Washington state of natural causes

Russell Johnson, who played the professor on “Gilligan's Island,” died Thursday morning, his agent told TheWrap. He was 89.

Johnson died at his home in Washington state of natural causes, his agent, Michael Eisenstadt said.

Born in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, Johnson graduated from a private boarding school for orphaned children before joining the Air Force, flying dozens of combat missions in World War II – including one that turned him into a real-life castaway in the Philippines in 1945. Johnson's B-25 bomber was shot down by heavy flak; he broke both his ankles during the mission, and received the Purple Heart.

See photos: Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2014

Johnson's acting career started nearly a decade later, with early roles in westerns and sci-fi movies and TV shows, including “It Came From Outer Space,” “This Island Earth” and “Attack of the Crab Monsters.” His TV career was robust through the late 1950s and early '60s, including as a regular on “Black Saddle” and two episodes of “The Twilight Zone.”

But he'll be best remembered as Roy Hinkley – “The Professor” – on “Gilligan's Island.” Johnson's unwavering, straight-man treatment of the character brought brains and gravitas to the otherwise silliness of Sherwood Schwartz's creation; it also afforded the otherwise hapless castaways a badly-needed hero, whose fix-it-with-whatever's-around approach would give way to more modern characters like Richard Dean Anderson's “MacGyver” and spurned spy Michael Westen on “Burn Notice.”

See photos: Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2013

Johnson was the last surviving male castaway from the TV series that ran from 1964 to 1967. Bob Denver (Gilligan) died in 2005; Alan Hale (the Skipper) died in 1990; and Jim Backus (Mr. Howell) died in 1989. Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell) died in 1991; Dawn Wells and Tina Louise (Mary Ann and Ginger) are the last surviving castmembers.

Wells posted photos of Johnson on her Facebook and Twitter feeds Thursday:

 

 

Johnson's career had legs after the Island, appearing in more Westerns and sci-fi movies and TV shows including “Gunsmoke,” “Dallas” and the Robert Redford spy thriller “Three Days of the Condor.”

TV Land president Larry W. Jones added, “We are deeply saddened to have learned of the passing of Russell Johnson, the beloved ‘Professor.'  We extend our deepest condolences to his family. ‘Gilligan's Island’ is one of the most iconic television series in pop culture history.  The news about Russell makes its return to TV Land on Monday all the more meaningful.”

He's survived by his wife Constance Dane, stepson Courtney Dane and daughter Kim from a previous marriage; his son David, an AIDS advocate, died from the disease in 1994.

Tim Kenneally contributed to this story.

  • Trish Chasity

    I will miss that guy he was the smart one who could put things together. Russell RIP Professor

    • Floyd Wilson

      I will never understand how he could make a radio out of coconuts but he couldn't patch a hole in a boat.

      • Muzturds

        It was a TV show,fool!.

        • Trish Chasity

          Who are you Mr . T too?

        • Doc.X

          He's quoting Bob Denver talking about the show years later.

        • Stanley Steamer

          He was being sarcastic FOOL.

  • David Andrew

    graduated from a private boarding school for orphaned children -Girard College

  • loretta hickman

    I read about his life and wow! He appeared to really have had a lot of accomplishments….RIP

  • tarnika_wilcher

    Not only the smartest but the cutest on the island…awww

  • Vickey Gilliam

    THAT SHOW TAKES ME BACK IN TIME WHEN TV SHOWS WERE SO PURE AND INNOCENT.LOVED PROFESSOR AND OTHER CAST MEMBERS!!

    • claude

      in Montreal in the '60s I was so mad because Gilligan's Island replace the cartoon Johnny Quest which I love but after a while I start loving it…

  • davidvoth

    He could do almost anything except fix the boat.

    • ALincolnVampSlayer

      If you found yourself the only decent looking guy on an island with a movie star (say Scarlet Johanson) and a hot farm girl (say she looked like Megan Fox), as a professor, wouldn't you calculate your odds of scoring and make up the story of not being able to fix the boat?? Well played professor, well played…

  • http://standingforhim.wordpress.com/ Jason Lovelace

    Amazing actor and wonderful as “The Professor”. He will be missed. They don't make actors and actresses with his caliber any more….

  • Muzturds

    He served his country, unlike the libturd puke Hollyweird activist no talent hacks of today.

    • A.L. Hern

      You DON'T know his politics, do you? A friend of mine, also a very well-respected Hollywood actor who died about three years ago, was a Marine fighter pilot during World War II, and as liberal in politics as they come. YOU, however, are just another loudmouth chickenhawk who has probably never come closer to combat than watching a John Wayne movie on television.

      • Stanley Steamer

        Who was this actor friend of yours? Did he stop acting to serve or was he an unknown actor that went to war then decided to become an actor?

    • Vetguy1234

      Oh you mean also like bush and Cheney and Reagan and Gingrich and Limbaugh and Hannity and also John Wayne all of them avoided service but willing to send troops in harms way…chicken hawks ….and why are right wing guys always inserting their wacko beliefs in every story?

      • David

        Besides, Muzt**ds, there is, to the best of my knowledge, no way that Hannity could've been drafted into the military. Reason being that our military has been all-volunteer since his (and my) adolescence. Selective Service may have revived registration about a year into Sean's adult life (and mine, as he's literally my age), but the United States Armed Forces are still all-volunteer.

        • David

          Russell Johnson, on the other hand, was likely (in fact, most likely) DRAFTED into World War II, as *that was the way the United States Armed Forces* **WERE** at the time.

    • Stanley Steamer

      Give it a rest, his acting career did not even start until a decade after the war. It's not like he was a super star that stopped acting to serve his country.

      • David

        Besides, Hannity (who is literally MY age, by the way)…well, he COULDN'T have been drafted for the simple reason that the Armed Forces became all-volunteer when he was an adolescent (if I have my facts straight) and remain so today. Selective Service may have revived registration a year into Sean's adult life (and mine), but it's *still* an **ALL-VOLUNTEER** ***MILITARY***.

  • beaumontdave

    My favorite character[ excluding fantasies of Maryann and Ginger], I always wanted to learn to teach myself things like the Professor did, and to some extent have done so. RIP Mr. Johnson.

  • dls

    I have nothing but the very best memories thank you all RIP Professor

  • Dan Stafford

    Good bye my friend and old neighbor , you are missed and never forgotten

  • Frustrated Teacher

    How many also know he was a hero who flew 44 combat missions in WWII and was awarded a purple heart. RIP Perfesser (as Gilligan said).

    • Ben Feerer Jr.

      His bravery on the missions that he was on in the Pacific war in World War two, is what I remember about him, he helped bring an end of to the terrible atrocities that the stupid Japanese and German government, who tried to kill all of us. My sympathy is with his family, and all his friends.

  • Stanley Steamer

    Russell who? This guy basically vaporized after one notable TV show.

  • justbobf

    >>> But he’ll be best remembered as Roy
    Wow. I never knew he had a name other than Professor. RIP Professor. You were much loved.

  • kheard

    Our first MacGyver. God's Speed.