Russell Johnson, the last surviving male cast member of CBS’s 1960’s comedy favorite, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND has died. Johnson was 89. Johnson died of kidney failure at his Bainbridge, Washington home on January 16. Russell’s “Professor” character was able to build complex instruments from simple island ingredients such as coconuts on episodes of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, but as Russell used to joke, he couldn’t patch the boat on the show. But, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND was hardly a rocket science experience. The show was silly fun, often of a slapstick nature where the “Skipper” character played by Alan Hale Jr. would hot Gilligan in the head with his hat after Gilligan goofed-up something and left the shipwrecked castaways stranded on the remote Pacific Island that was supposed to be within a few hours of Hawaii.
Long before GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, Johnson enlisted in the Army Air Force, and flew 44 combat missions in the Pacific before being shot down and breaking both ankles in the crash landing that killed some fellow crewmembers. After the war, Johnson became an actor, sometimes appearing in westerns, as Johnson had befriended Audie Murphy and landed roles in a few movies in the early 50’s, but later moved on to Sci Fi and Comedy films including, THIS ISLAND EARTH and MA AND PA KETTLE IN WAIKIKI. Strangely, Russell Johnson had actually worked together with Alan Hale Jr. in at least one film before GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, and had appeared in two TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, as a professor twice before GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, so both roles made Johnson straight from central casting to be perfect to work with Alan Hale jr. as the “Professor” character on the show. The show lasted three years, becoming a cult classic that has been amazing popular in re-runs and in DVD sales.
In his personal life, Johnson was married three times, but his first two children, David a son, and Kim, a daughter had died from natural causes. His son David had contracted AIDS, and late into his life, Johnson did volunteer fundraising work to help find a cure for AIDS. Johnson was a very nice man who loved to meet with fans and maintained a fan appreciation Webpage with friendly messages to his many fans who deeply appreciated his work, especially on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. His role as Professor Roy Hinckley was far and away his most popular role from this handsome and very intelligent actor.