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American character actor Russell Johnson dead at 89

Russell Johnson
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Russell Johnson passed away Thursday from kidney failure, he was 89 years old. Best known for the iconic role of "The Professor" on the American T.V. series "Gilligan's Island" and its subsequent spin-off shows. Johnson was also a prolific character actor who appeared in well over a hundred and fifty films and television shows from the fifties to well into the eighties. His other well known pictures were "The Greatest Story Ever Told", "Invitation to a Gunfighter", "Three Days of the Condor" , "MacArther" and Sci-Fi B-movies such as "It Came From Space", "This Island Earth", "Attack of the Crab Monsters" and "The Space Children" along with guest starring roles on the television shows "Rawhide", "The Twilight Zone", "The Outer Limits", "Gunsmoke" and "Wagon Train".

Born on November 10, 1924 in Ashley, Pennsylvania the oldest of six children. His father died at the age of ten and he was sent to Girard College along with his brothers to finish their education. After graduating he joined the U.S.A.F. (United States Air Force) and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. During his stint he became a bombardier aboard a B-24 and flew in over forty missions before being injured in combat when his plane was shot down. When he was discharged from the service Johnson used his G.I. Bill to attend acting school and after a few years he began to act in bit roles on film and television.

Johnson got his first big break when he co-starred in the television western series "Black Saddle". He eventually landed the role of "The Professor" on "Gilligan's Island" when the original actor John Gabriel was let go after the first pilot episode (which never aired) because he looked "too young"to have so many degrees for the part. "Gilligan's Island" was cancelled after three seasons but nostalgia for the series gave it a rebirth of sorts during the late seventies with four t.v. movie sequels and an animated series. Johnson appeared in a few more t.v. series and films but he'll always be tied to the role of The Professor".

In his later years Russell Johnson would make the celebrity rounds like autograph signings, speaking engagements, played variations of his "Professor" and would later write his memoirs titled "Here on Gilligan's Isle". He's survived by his third wife Constance Dane and daughter Kim Johnson.

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