Bob Denver, TV's Gilligan, dead at 70

Tuesday, September 6th 2005, 1:45 pm
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Bob Denver, the bumbling namesake of ``Gilligan's Island'' who embarked on what was supposed to be a three-hour tour and endeared himself to generations of TV fans, has died at age 70.

He died Friday at Wake Forest University Baptist Hospital in North Carolina of complications from treatment he was receiving for cancer, his agent, Mike Eisenstadt, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Denver, who for the last several years had lived in Princeton, W.Va., also underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery earlier this year. His wife, Dreama, and his children Patrick, Megan, Emily and Colin were with him when he died.

``He was my everything and I will love him forever,'' Dreama Denver said.

Denver's signature role was Gilligan, but when he took the role in 1964 he was already widely known to TV audiences for another iconic character, Maynard G. Krebs, the bearded beatnik friend of Dwayne Hickman's Dobie in the ``The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,'' which aired on CBS from 1959 to 1963.

Krebs, whose only desire was to play the bongos and hang out at coffee houses, would shriek every time the word ``work'' was mentioned in his presence.

Gilligan on the other hand was industrious but inept. And his character was as lovable as he was inept. Viewers embraced the skinny kid in the Buster Brown haircut and white sailor hat. So did the skipper, who was played by Alan Hale Jr. and who always referred to his first mate affectionately as ``little buddy.''

It was an affection that carried over into real life, the show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, and several of Denver's surviving castmates said Tuesday.

``I found him to be a dear, sweet generous, loving man,'' said Russell Johnson, who played the professor on ``Gilligan's Island.''

Hickman said the two remained lifelong friends although they were as different in real life as their characters had been in ``The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.''

``I just loved him. He was wonderful. One of my dear, dear friends. I feel like a part of me died,'' Hickman said.

California state Sen. Sheila James Kuehl, who played Dobie's love-struck pursuer Zelda, remembered Denver as a mentor, both in acting and life.

``What he taught me about acting was when you work to make the other person look good, you end up looking good yourself,'' she said. ``What he taught me about life was that you could love your work, but it was really more important to love your friends and family.''

Denver went on to star in other TV series, including ``The Good Guys'' and ``Dusty's Trail,'' as well as to make numerous appearances in films and TV shows.

But he never escaped the role of Gilligan, so much so that in one of his top 10 lists _ ``the top 10 things that will make you stand up and cheer'' _ ``Late Show'' host David Letterman once simply shouted out Denver's name to raucous applause.

The show's success, according to Schwartz, was rooted in the fact that seven people of entirely different backgrounds were thrown together each week in a comedic setting.

He also credited Denver's acting talent with helping drive the series.

``He was a complex man. He was not a guy who just slipped on banana peels,'' Schwartz said Tuesday. ``He knew most people thought of him as a funny guy who could do funny things. But he was really an intellectual at heart.''

TV critics saw the show as anything but intellectual, dismissing the idea of a group of tourists being stranded on an uncharted desert island as inane. After it was canceled by CBS in 1967, ``Gilligan's Island'' found new audiences over and over in syndicated reruns and reunion films, including 1981's ``The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.'' (It also led to the recent TBS reality series ``The Real Gilligan's Island.'')

``As silly as it seems to all of us, it has made a difference in a lot of children's lives,'' Dawn Wells, who played castaway 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.'''

One of the most recent film sequels was 2001's ``Surviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three Hour Tour in History,'' in which other actors portrayed the original seven-member cast while Denver, Wells and Johnson narrated and reminisced.

The original show's other castaways were Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer, as rich snobs Thurston and Lovey Howell, and Tina Louise, as bosomy movie star Ginger Grant.

Denver's death leaves Wells, Johnson and Louise as the cast's surviving members.

Denver was born in New Rochelle, N.Y., on Jan 9, 1935. He discovered acting while studying law at Loyola University in Los Angeles in the 1950s. While struggling to make it as an actor, he taught private school and worked at a post office.

After landing a small role in the 1959 Sal Mineo film ``A Private Affair,'' he was cast as Krebs in ``Dobie Gillis'' and his career took off.

Denver is survived by his wife and children and a granddaughter, Elana. The family said no memorial service is planned.