Dawn Wells, actress and former beauty queen who played the sweet Mary Ann Summers on the iconic CBS sitcom Gilligan’s Island, died Wednesday morning.
She was 82.
Wells died in Los Angeles of causes related to COVID-19, her publicist announced.
Other than Tina Louise, Wells was the last surviving member of the regular cast of the Sherwood Schwartz-created show, which featured three women and four men marooned on a desert island after their three-hour boat tour off the coast of Honolulu went inexplicably awry.
Airing amid the real-life tumult of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and unrest on college campuses, viewers welcomed the corny sitcom as wholesome escapism. It earned solid ratings during its 98-episode run from 1964-67 and attracted new fans through decades of syndication.
The other castaways aboard the shipwrecked SS Minnow were Gilligan (Bob Denver); the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.); millionaire Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus) and his wife, Lovey (Natalie Schafer); the Professor (Russell Johnson); and Hollywood starlet Ginger Grant (Louise).
Louise paid tribute to Wells on Twitter following the news: “I will always remember Dawn’s kindness to me. We shared in creating a cultural landmark that has continued to bring comfort and smiles to people during this difficult time. I hope that people will remember her the way that I do — always with a smile on her face.”
While some of the cast — most notably Louise, who declined to appear in three made-for-TV Gilligan’s Island movies from 1978-82 — expressed dismay over being “typecast,” the angelic Wells embraced the show’s enduring popularity and was grateful to the fans who, for years, sometimes obsessively, expressed their affinity for her and the character she played.
In August 2018, Wells took a fall and revealed that she was having difficulty paying for the two months of hospital rehabilitation that she needed. She said she was flabbergasted when folks raised $197,000 for her in a month after a friend created a GoFundMe page.
“I am amazed at the kindness and affection I have received,” she told Fox News. “I don’t know how this happened. I thought I was taking all the proper steps to ensure my golden years. Now, here I am, no family, no husband, no kids and no money.”
The ‘In Memoriam’ segments of this next round of post-COVID awards shows will be so sad.