Russell Johnson, whose name may not be readily household, but the character of The Professor he played on the hapless castaway sitcom Gilligan’s Island certainly was, has died at the age of 89 of natural causes at his home in Washington.
To massive amounts of generations who found Gilligan’s Island in syndication a few years after its cancellation as a mildly successful CBS program during its original run from 1964-1967, The Professor was one of the few level-headed and conscientious characters on the show, which already had thrown logic and any sense of reality out the window. Its basic premise was a group of travelers going on a three-hour tour by way of a boat ride wind up in inclement weather, so bad that the boat capsizes, and all aboard are somehow washed aboard a remote island, one that seemingly is immune to anyone else coming there to rescue its new inhabitants.
Starring Bob Denver as the titular character Gilligan, and alongside other actors such as Jim Backus, Dawn Wells, and Alan Hale Jr. to name a few, Johnson’s Professor was the calm rock in the sea of zaniness, ego trips, territorialism and light tension that constantly existed among the others on a weekly basis. Johnson’s skills at being able to make decidedly embryonic MacGuyver like on-the-fly gadgets with coconuts and palm tree leaves, using the limited resources of the island to try to create some sort of communication to get them rescued, or something which would apply a more of an easy time on the island, The Professor, (who went by the name of Roy Hinkley) became, almost by default, arguably the only intelligent character to look up to on the show.
Like the rest of the Gilligan’s cast, Johnson became iron clad typecast following the success of Gilligan, but he had appeared in a few Twilight Zones and the B-picture standards It Came From Outer Space, and This Island Earth.
In his passing, now all the main male characters from Gilligan’s Island have passed on. Only Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) and Tina Louise (Ginger Grant) remain among the living. But the timeless quality of the inanity and good-hearted charm of Gilligan’s Island, and the leave-your-brain-at-the-door feel the program has, which in essence makes it accessible to anyone, will endure forever and ever, meaning that the guise and character of The Professor, played by Russell Johnson, will endure as well. Talk about taking a three-hour tour that lasted a lifetime.
RIP Russell Johnson
1924 — 2014