‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Dawn Wells Dies, COVID-19 Cited

December 31, 2020 Updated: December 31, 2020

LOS ANGELES—Dawn Wells, who played the wholesome Mary Ann among a misfit band of shipwrecked castaways on the 1960s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” died Wednesday of causes related to COVID-19, her publicist said. She was 82.

Wells died peacefully at a residential facility in Los Angeles, publicist Harlan Boll said. “There is so much more to Dawn Wells” than the “Gilligan’s Island” character that brought her fame, Boll said in a statement.

Besides TV, film and stage acting credits, her other real-life roles included teacher and motivational speaker, Boll said.

Tina Louise, 86, who played Ginger the movie star, is the last surviving member of a cast that included Bob Denver as the title character; Alan Hale Jr. as the Skipper; Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer as wealthy passengers Thurston and Lovey Howell, and Russell Johnson, known as the Professor.

Obit Dawn Wells
In this June 8, 2008 file photo, actress Dawn Wells arrives at the TV Land Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. (Mark Mainz/AP Photo File)

Wells, a native of Reno, Nevada, represented her state in the 1959 Miss America pageant and quickly pivoted to an acting career. Her early TV roles were on shows including “77 Sunset Strip,” “Maverick” and “Bonanza.”

Then came “Gilligan’s Island,” a goofy, good-natured comedy that aired from 1964-67 that became an unlikely but indelible part of popular culture. Wells’ comely but innocent Mary Ann complemented Louise’s worldly Ginger, and both became innocuous ’60s TV versions of sex symbols.

Wells’ wardrobe included a gingham dress and shorts that modestly covered her belly button, with both costumes on display in Los Angeles at The Hollywood Museum.

TV movies spinoffs from the series followed, including 1978’s “Rescue from Gilligan’s Island,” but Wells also moved on to other TV guest roles and films including the 2002 vacuum cleaner salesman comedy “Super Sucker” with Jeff Daniels. She starred on stage in dozens of plays, including “Chapter Two” and “The Odd Couple.”

Two years ago, a friend launched a GoFundMe drive to help cover medical and other costs for Wells, although she protested she didn’t need the assistance. She did end up acknowledging her need and accepted more than $180,000 in donations.

Dawn is survived by her stepsister, Weslee Wells.

By Lynn Elber