Actress Dawn Wells, a former Miss America contestant who gained international fame portraying farm-girl castaway Mary Ann on the classic sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” died Wednesday from complications of COVID-19 at age 82.
Her publicist, Harlan Boll, confirmed her death, saying Wells “passed peacefully this morning, in no pain, as a result of complications due to COVID.”
“With over 540,000 fans on her Facebook page and fan clubs across the U.S., her following has remained faithful,” Boll wrote in a social media post announcing her death. “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.”’
A native of Reno, Wells was crowned Miss Nevada in 1959, and went on to compete in the 1960 Miss America pageant. After earning a degree that year in theater arts at the University of Washington, Wells moved to Hollywood and began appearing on a string of shows, including “Bonanza,” “Maverick,” “The Joey Bishop Show” 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.
With Wells’ death, Tina Louise — who portrayed starlet Ginger — is the only surviving original cast member from the show, which also featured Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer and Russell Johnson.
“I will always remember Dawn’s kindness to me,” Louise wrote on her Facebook page Wednesday. “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.”
After “Gilligan” ended its run, Wells focused mainly on musical theater, but she also continued to appear on television, showing up on episodes of “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island,” “The F.B.I.,” “Growing Pains” and “Columbo.”
But she was forever known as Mary Ann. While some performers would shy away from being typecast, Wells reveled in the enduring popularity of the character. She often appeared in shows reprising her role, often in spoof story-lines, including “Roseanne,” “Baywatch” and “ALF.”
More recently, Wells lent her voice to “The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants” and, according to Boll, Amazon Prime recently picked up “Dawn Wells Reel Adventures,” which was shot in the late 1990s and featured her traveling the world with fly-fisher Kathy Ruddick.
Wells was active on social media, posting a video as recently as Christmas Eve.
“I had fun with friends from a safe distance being goofy and recording a Christmas greeting,” Wells wrote in the post. “Keep your heart light and share a few laughs and conversation with someone near and far. Be well. Be safe. Have a Merry Christmas!”
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.