The Professor actor Russell Johnson got to know Gilligan actor Bob Denver pretty well during their three years together on “Gilligan’s Island.” And he said that in real life, Denver was far from the goofball he portrayed onscreen.
“Bobby Denver was the opposite of the character he played,” Johnson told MeTV in 2018. “He was a schoolteacher. He taught school!”
“He’s very straight and organized, not this bumbling guy,” Johnson added of Denver, who died in 2005 at age 70. “And yet he had played that character twice in a way! But anyway Bob was not like that at all.”
‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Bob Denver Became Famous as Gilligan
Denver died at Wake Forest University Baptist Hospital in North Carolina due to complications from his treatment for throat cancer, his agent told the Associated Press. A lifelong smoker who also drank heavily before he got married, Denver had also undergone quadruple heart bypass surgery earlier that year.
But before he did, Denver lived a full life. It was marred only somewhat by his discomfort with the fame that followed his portrayal of Gilligan. His performance resonated with many people, to the point where his costars said he was beloved by generations of children.
“As silly as it seems to all of us, [the show] has made a difference in a lot of children’s lives,” Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann Summers, once said. “Gilligan is a buffoon that makes mistakes and I cannot tell you how many kids come up and say, ‘But you loved him anyway.”’
Still, in his later years, Denver made his peace with his enduring celebrity. “Gilligan’s Island” lived on in reruns. And the show remained popular with nostalgic collectors for years.
“It was the mid-’70s when I realized it wasn’t going off the air,” Denver told the Associated Press in 2001. He even admitted that he would check eBay daily to see what prices “Gilligan” memorabilia were drawing.
“I certainly didn’t set out to have a series rerun forever, but it’s not a bad experience at all,” he said.
Denver and His Family Struggled Financially
Denver’s wife Dreama said that while Denver was a celebrity, he was never rich. In fact, the family had significant financial difficulties. Those were compounded by their need to provide round-the-clock care to Denver and Dreama’s autistic son Colin.
“There were no residuals from ‘Gilligan’s Island.’ There was never any money past the first two runs of the original airing, and re-runs that they used to do in the spring,” Dreama told Fox News. “So [we had] financial problems. Back in the early days of television there were no DVDs or mass syndication. You just made a deal to do the show. And you didn’t think of anything past that. Bob said if he knew he would have made a better deal.”
Dreama said Denver devoted the final 21 years of his life to helping her care for Colin, who has severe autism and needs full-time care. She believes Denver was searching for his purpose in life. And when they had Colin, he found it. But that inner peace did not necessarily translate to freedom from financial worries. Far from it, she said.
“We struggled financially, physically, emotionally like anybody else,” Dreama told Fox. “And sometimes I think it really helps folks to know that celebrities are not immune from all the challenges of life. When they find out someone like Bob… is going through similar [financial woes] and is not in a gated community with nannies, but is hands-on and doing it himself, that strikes a chord with people.”