Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island,” died Wednesday of causes related to COVID-19, her publicist said. She was 82.
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.
“I will always remember her kindness to me,” Louise said in a statement. “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.”
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.
“Those shorts,” Dawn Wells told the Sun-Times in a 2003 interview. “Honestly, the best times were when I got to wear a long dress just so I didn’t have to have that body makeup painted over every inch of my body.”
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.
In that same Sun-Times interview, Wells revealed her favorite Chicago haunts included the Museum of Science and Industry (she was a member), the Shedd Aquarium and the Art Institute. Her favorite Chicago food? The now-defunct Eil’s the Place for Steak.
“[Chicago is] beautifully clean and rich with culture,” she said.
Dawn is survived by her stepsister, Weslee Wells.