‘Gilligan’s Island’: When and How Did ‘The Professor’ Actor Russell Johnson Die?

by Joe Rutland

Russell Johnson found himself stuck on “Gilligan’s Island” as “The Professor” for a long time. But he had a very full, rich life.

Johnson died on Jan. 16, 2014, from kidney failure at 86 years old. He died on Bainbridge Island, Wash., according to an article from the Seattle Times. Johnson was married three times, with Constance Dane being his final wife and marrying him in 1982.

He had three children, including one stepchild, in his life.

“Gilligan’s Island” came along for Johnson after he’d appeared in many Western films. He usually played the bad guy in those pictures. So it became an interesting twist of fate when “The Professor” role landed in his lap.

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Became The Brains For Those Castaways

If you recall, “The Professor,” whose name was Roy Hinkley, was the brains of the island filled with seven stranded castaways. Johnson turned the role into one that could solve problems by using what was available on there. Whether it was cocoanuts or bamboo tree parts, “The Professor” found a way to make them work.

Johnson starred on “Gilligan’s Island” for all three seasons it was on CBS in 1964-67. It was one of the TV shows that moved from black-and-white episodes to color TV ones. During that time, television networks made a big deal about shows being shown in color.

But he also started his career, as we mentioned earlier, in Western films. Some of those included “Rancho Notorious,” “Seminole,” “Law and Order” with Ronald Reagan and Dennis Weaver, “Column South,” and “Tumbleweed.”

Actor Usually Played Bad Guy In Numerous Western Roles

In the Times’ obituary, Johnson talked about being on TV westerns and how that changed after he started playing “The Professor.”

“‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Wagon Train,’ ‘The Dakotas,’ you name a Western, I did it,” Johnson said of his career before “Gilligan’s Island.”

“I was always the bad guy in Westerns. I played more bad guys than you can shake a stick at until I played the Professor. Then I couldn’t get a job being a bad guy.”

He found other roles as a guest star on other TV series. Some of them included “Mannix,” “Lou Grant,” and “The Jeffersons.”

But Johnson also served his country during World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Services and flew 44 combat missions in the Pacific Theater. Johnson’s plane was shot down over the Philippine Islands. Because of his injuries, Johnson earned a Purple Heart.

Upon leaving the military, the “Gilligan’s Island” star used the G.I. Bill to attend the Actors’ Lab in Hollywood.

Johnson learned his lessons well and found work in the movie industry. Ultimately, he became attached to the TV show and people got the chance to see him nearly every day of the week.