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. He was 89.
Johnson died Thursday at his home on Bainbridge Island, Wash., of natural causes, said his agent, Mike Eisenstadt.
Johnson was a busy but little-known character actor when he was cast in the slapstick 1960s 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 couldn’t do when it came to building generators, short-wave 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 figuring out how to patch the hole in the bottom of the S.S. Minnow so the group could get back to civilization.
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.
In a 2004 interview, Johnson analyzed the show’s lasting appeal.
“Parents are happy to have their children watch it,” he said. “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,” having become typecast as the egg-headed professor. But he harbored 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.