Russell Johnson, Professor on 'Gilligan's Island,' Dies at 89

Russell Johnson Gilligan's Island - P 2014
Courtesy Everett Collection

Russell Johnson Gilligan's Island - P 2014

UPDATE: The actor remained "proud" of his role and its influence on pop culture in later years.

Russell Johnson, best known as Professor Roy Hinkley on Gilligan's Island, died Thursday of kidney failure. He was 89.

"He died at home, peaceful, in his sleep at 5:21 a.m. today," his wife, Constance, told ABC News. "[He was] a very brave guy who knew what he wanted, and he wanted to be at home."

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Johnson portrayed the Professor in the classic comedy from 1964-67, appearing in 98 of the show's 99 episodes. Johnson was a busy but little-known character actor with credits that included This Island Earth and It Came From Outer Space when he was cast in the slapstick comedy about seven people marooned on an uncharted Pacific island.

During its three-season run on CBS, critics lambasted the show. But after its cancellation, it found generations of new fans in reruns and reunion movies.

In later years, Johnson remained "proud" of the role and its influence on viewers.

"I think, what I love most at this point in time in the long life of Gilligan's Island is the positive, intelligent nature of longtime Gilligan aficionados," he wrote on his website. "It amazes me. I have received mail throughout the years from young viewers from all over the world, year after year, who were so influenced by the Professor's smarts that they became science buffs and are now real professors, doctors and scientists. It makes me proud."

Johnson was the last surviving male star from the show.

Larry W. Jones, president of TV Land, paid tribute to Johnson on Thursday.
“We are deeply saddened to have learned of the passing of Russell Johnson, the beloved 'Professor,' " he said. "We extend our deepest condolences to his family. Gilligan's Island is one of the most iconic television series in pop culture history. The news about Russell makes its return to TV Land on Monday all the more meaningful."

And Dawn Wells (who played fellow castaway Mary Ann), referring to her and Johnson's billing on the show, said, "and the other half of 'The Rest' is gone.

"Russell was a true gentleman, a dear friend with fantastic wit and a wonderful actor. I am heartbroken and will miss him terribly."

Wells, 75, noted that she will be attending a boat show next week in Vancouver that will feature the original S.S. Minnow from the series, now restored and used for charitable events. "I am hoping that we can do something to remember Russell at that time," she said.

Johnson continued to work steadily through the 1990s, including in several Gilligan's Island TV movies along with appearances on such TV shows as Lassie, Newhart, Gunsmoke, Dynasty and Roseanne.

Below, watch portions of Johnson's interview with the Television Academy's Archive of American Television, where he shares his thoughts on his Gilligan's Island co-stars and his favorite episodes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.