Russell Johnson Dead at 89

Russell Johnson, the actor best known for playing the Professor on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, died early this morning of kidney failure. He was 89.

"He died at home, peaceful, in his sleep at 5:21 am 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."

Originally from northeastern Pennsylvania, Johnson served in World War II before pursuing an acting career. He acted in several television programs in the 1950s and '60s, including THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. However, his most famous role came along in 1964: The Professor on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.

"I've had people in the ensuing years say to 'if they did GILLIGAN'S ISLAND' today you'd all be living in the same tent,'" he told the Archive of American Television. "It's true. That innocence was kept and it worked."

Afterward, he appeared in several films and TV shows, including an episode of NEWHART in which he was shown watching an episode of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.

He guest-starred on DALLAS in 1986 as Sheriff Wyatt Mansfield. He also appeared on DYNASTY as Earl Thompson in the 1986-1987 season. He played Tim Murphy on KNOTS LANDING in 1987.

In 1991, he played Roger Wainwright on the NBC daytime soap opera SANTA BARBARA. Roger was the father of Julia Wainwright (Nancy Lee Grahn).

Johnson, a Washington resident, leaves behind his wife and a daughter, Kim. His son, David, ran the AIDS program for Los Angeles, California, until David's own death from complications of AIDS in 1994. Johnson was a full-time volunteer for AIDS research fundraising since his son was diagnosed.

Johnson's GILLIGAN'S ISLAND co-star Tina Louise (Ginger) made the following statement: "I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Russell Johnson. My prayers and condolences go out to his wife Constance and his family. He will always be in our hearts and remembered as part of American pop culture history as GILLIGAN'S ISLAND lives on through ME TV and TV Land. He will truly be missed."

GILLIGAN'S ISLAND is returning to TV Land with a "12-Hour Tour" marathon on Monday, January 20th from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET. The classic sitcom then settles into its regular slot in primetime airing between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. from Monday through Saturday.

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