‘Gilligan’s Island’: How ‘The Professor’ Actor Russell Johnson’s Son Tragically Died

by Megan Molseed
(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

Russell Johnson was known for his part in one of television’s longest “tours” on Gilligan’s Island. However, while Russell Johnson may have been a key piece in iconic comedy history, the actor also faced his share of tragedies.

Notable among these tragedies is the untimely and tragic death of Russell Johnson’s son, David. The Gilligan’s Island star’s son died of AIDS in 1994.

David Johnson was one of the first AIDS coordinators for the Los Angeles area before succumbing to the virus himself.

After his son’s tragic death, Russell Johnson became involved in a variety of AIDS fundraising efforts. Johnson served as an activist fighting to help those suffering from AIDS over the years. The actor spent much of his later years dedicated to raising money for a variety of AIDS charities.

Russell Johnson became a household name when he was featured as one of the seven unlucky castaways aboard the S.S. Minnow during an ill-fated three-hour tour on the iconic sitcom series Gilligan’s Island.

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Balanced Out A Colorful Cast

In the wildly popular sitcom series, Russell Johnson portrayed Professor Roy Hinkley. The Professor often acts as the straight man to Bob Denver’s Gilligan. And Gilligan was often the one causing some version of chaos among the castaways.

The Professor was usually the most level-headed character among the group.

The colorful group of characters on the show includes Jim Backus’s millionaire character Thurston Howell III and the millionaire’s wife, Eunice, who is played by Natalie Schafer.

Also included in the Gilligan’s Island motley crew of characters is a former movie star, is Tina Louise’s Ginger Grant; the classic “girl next door” Mary Anne who is portrayed by Dawn Wells; and Alan Hale Jr.’s The Skipper.

The Professor was often the voice of reason among the Gilligan’s Island crew. Because of this, Johnson’s Professor was often the unofficial leader during many of the group’s adventures.

Russell has said that he was reluctant to audition for the widely beloved comedy series.

Before his time on Gilligan’s Island, Johnson spent several years portraying the “bad guys” in a variety of television westerns as well as on film.

Russell Johnson Felt Type-Cast In the Series

While the hit series may not have been one that caught the actor’s attention immediately, Russell Johnson’s move to Gilligan’s Island led to great success.

While the sitcom did only last three seasons it found massive success in syndication. The popular series has been on the air in as many as 30 separate languages.

However, Johnson has said that his role on Gilligan’s Island has led to typecasting.

For decades Russell Johnson could hardly shake his portrayal of the straight-laced and scholarly professor. And, the actor notes, this made finding further professional roles rather difficult across the board.

“After ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ I couldn’t get a job playing heavies,” the actor has said. “Let alone getting a job.”