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Russell Johnson, The Professor on 'Gilligan's Island,' dead at 89

Russell Johnson, as The Professor, during filming of

Russell Johnson, as The Professor, during filming of a two-hour reunion show, "The Return from Gilligan's Island," in Los Angeles. (Oct. 2, 1978) Credit: AP

Russell Johnson -- forever and always known for one brief and very beloved role, "The Professor" -- has died. He was 89.

His agent, Mike Eisenstadt, says Johnson died Thursday morning at his home in Washington State of natural causes.

As part of a group of tourists who embarked on an ill-fated three-hour boat tour from Hawaii -- always a bit unclear why a professor needed to take a three-hour tour, but no matter -- he along with passengers and crew were marooned on a desert island. Sherwood Schwartz's camp classic would last but a few seasons, yet  the show -- and theme song -- have become among the most indelible memories of an entire decade, and (indeed) an entire medium: Television. 

Johnson's professor was an essential part of the show: Serious, forever cooking up ideas to get off the island, some that even worked,he was the resident genius who seemed to know something about everything.

For example, this quote from the episode entitled "Ghost-a-Go-Go:" "Fortunately I happen to know something about the construction of mannequins."

Johnson was - as fans will attest - perfect in the role...

Johnson was a World War 2 flyboy in the Pacific theater and flew dozens of missions in a B-25.  This from a website devoted to the show: "...his plane was shot down in the Philippines and he had to crash land on the island of Mindanao. In this mission, he broke his ankles and earned his Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf cluster, the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of War ribbon with four battle stars, and the Philippine Liberation Medal. He was honorably discharged with the rank of first Lieutenant on November 22, 1945."

ABCNews.com has some more details: "...the actor's wife, Constance, [said] the 89-year-old TV star died early this morning of kidney failure. "He died at home, peaceful, in his sleep at 5:21 am today," she said. "[He was] a very brave guy who knew what he wanted, and he wanted to be at home."  Originally from northeastern Pennsylvania, Johnson served in World War II before pursuing an acting career. He acted in several TV programs in the 1950s and '60s, including "The Adventures of Superman," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Twilight Zone." However, his most famous role came along in 1964..."

Meanwhile, watch (Newsday app readers go to Newsday.com/tvzone) below.

With reporting by The Associated Press.

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