LOS ANGELES, CA — Actress Dawn Wells, who became a pop culture icon for her portrayal of castaway Mary Ann on the sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” died Wednesday from complications of COVID-19. She was 82.
The former Miss America contestant died peacefully Wednesday morning, according to her publicist, Harlan Boll.
She “passed peacefully this morning, in no pain, as a result of complications due to COVID,” he said in a social media post. “With over 540,000 fans on her Facebook page and fan clubs across the U.S., her following has remained faithful. Dawn would say that Mary Ann fits today just as she fit three generations ago, because she is timeless. In a world where the industry and society has been celebrating their ‘bad girls,’ Mary Ann continues to be, for man, the breath of fresh air as the ‘good girl.”‘
Her death leaves only one surviving castaway: Tina Louise, who portrayed starlet Ginger. The show also featured Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer and Russell Johnson.
A native of Reno, Wells was Miss Nevada in the 1959 Miss America pageant before moving to Hollywood and beginning appearances on a string of shows, including “Bonanza,” “Maverick” and “77 Sunset Strip.”
But she struck gold when she was cast as Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers on Sherwood Schwartz’s “Gilligan’s Island,” the tale of seven castaways on an uncharted island. The show ran from 1964-67 but lived on for generations through syndication. The show was also parlayed into a series of made-for-TV movies.
Wells’ enduring connection to her fans continued throughout her life and help saved her in 2018 when she suffered an accident and found herself unable to pay her bills and her taxes. Friends and fans set up an online fundraiser, raising more than $200,000 to help her.
“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. I’m grateful that God has given me so many friends and fans who care, or it would all be too … overwhelming. … I am grateful to any of my fans who are willing to offer support,” Wells said at the time.
Her fans said they opened up their pocketbooks because she had given them so much joy over the years.
“‘Gilligan’s Island’ was appointment television for me growing up. I have seen each episode at least 10 times,” wrote one donor. “Ms. Wells has given me and countless others eternal joy and we are grateful.”
“My first true love…,” wrote another.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in name to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum or The Shambala Preserve, Boll said.