Russell Johnson, Professor on ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ Dies at 89

Russell Johnson, who was best known as the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island,” died Thursday in Washington state of kidney failure, according to his longtime agent Michael Eisenstadt. He was 89.

From the 1950s through the 1980s, he guest-starred on numerous TV shows including “Twilight Zone,” “Lassie,” “Lou Grant,” “Dynasty” and “Alf.” But Professor Roy Hinkley on “Gilligan’s Island” was his most indelible role on the show that ran from 1964 to 1967.

His character was basically the straight man to the kooky cast of characters marooned on the island. “Gilligan’s Island” creator Sherwood Schwartz once described the character: “Very often the Professor is the one who prevents the rest of the group from taking rash actions. The others look to him and his great store of scientific knowledge, especially as it might affect their possibility of rescue.”

“Gilligan’s Island” had only a short run in primetime but has lived on in reruns for decades. As the 50th anniversary of its debut approaches, the show is getting a big promo push with a run on TV Land that begins Monday.

Castmate Dawn Wells noted that she and Russell jokingly called themselves as “the Rest,” a reference to the lyrics of the show’s famous theme song.

“And the other half of ‘the Rest’ is gone,” Wells said. “Russell was a true gentleman, a dear friend with a fantastic wit and wonderful actor.”

After serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II, he enrolled in acting school. Throughout the 1950s, Johnson appeared in sci-fi films including “This Island Earth” and “It Came from Outer Space.” He was also a frequent Western actor in films such as “Tumbleweed,” “The Stand at Apache River” and “Ride Clear of Diablo.”

Johnson is survived by his wife and a daughter.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers

    Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers From Skipping Fox Ad Breaks

    Fox is hoping to knit together the seconds-long divide between a TV program and the commercials that support it. During ad breaks for a few football broadcasts, tomorrow’s run of the Emmys and Wednesday’s season premiere of “The Masked Singer,” the network will kick off ad sessions with special show promos that display artistic renderings [...]

  • Patria

    HBO Europe Unveils ‘Patria’ Footage to Captive San Sebastian Audience

    SAN SEBASTIAN — Amid large expectation, HBO Europe has revealed first footage giving a first sense of tone and pace of its Spanish original series “Patria.” A packed-to-overflowing press conference on Saturday morning at the San Sebastian Festival can be read as one sign of the potential popularity of the eight-part series. The panel sneak-peek [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • Peter Weber and Mike Johnson

    'The Bachelor's' Mike Johnson on Diversity and New Leading Man Peter Weber

    ABC named its newest star of “The Bachelor” this week, officially making Peter Weber the leading man for Season 24 of the long-running dating show. Social media backlash ensued following the announcement due to ABC’s selection lacking diversity, yet again. Since the dating franchise began in 2002, there has been only one “Bachelorette” of color [...]

  • ABC Studios Logo

    ABC Studios Head of Alternative Fernando Hernandez Exits

    ABC Studios’ head of alternative Fernando Hernandez has departed from his post at the Disney-owned television studio, a source familiar with the situation told Variety. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news. Hernandez’s exit follows an executive shuffling at the top in recent months that has included the departure of Amy Hartwick, ABC Studio’s head [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

  • TV Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville'

    TV News Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville' Role in 'Arrowverse' Crossover

    In today’s TV news roundup, Erica Durance reprises her “Smallville” role in the CW’s annual “Arrowverse” crossover, and Showtime shares with Variety an exclusive sneak peek at the return of “The Circus.” FIRST LOOKS “2020 is the most important election of our lifetime,” Alex Wagner says in a new trailer for the fourth season of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content