Born Robert Denver, January 9, 1935, in New Rochelle, NY; died of complications related to cancer treatment, September 2, 2005, in Winston-Salem, NC. Actor. American actor Bob Denver was best known for his iconic roles in two classic American television situation comedies, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and Gilligan's Island. Both shows were hits in their original runs and remained popular in syndicated reruns for many years, keeping Denver and his off-beat characters in the public eye. Denver also appeared in several other television shows, as well as film and stage roles, and had his own syndicated oldies radio show.
Born in 1935 in New York, Denver attended high school in Brownwood, Texas. After graduation, he and his family moved to California. There, Denver attended Loyola University (later known as Loyola Marymount) in Los Angeles. While a college student, Denver was drawn into acting. He was convinced to become the house manager of the university's theater, then went on to appear in five college productions. A pre-law student, Denver graduated with his political science degree.
With degree in hand, Denver decided not to pursue a law career and started acting with the local Del Ray Players. He made his professional stage debut playing a seaman in a Los Angeles production of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Another early stage role was in William Shakespeare's Henry IV as Falstaff. In order to support himself, Denver also held other jobs, working as a teacher, coach, and mail carrier for a few years as his acting career developed.
By the late 1950s, Denver was being cast in roles in film and television. He had a small role in the 1959 film A Private's Affair. That same year, he had a screen test which led to him being cast as Maynard G. Krebs in the sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which aired from 1959 to 1963. Krebs was a beatnik who had a goatee, wore a sweatshirt, and played the bongos. The best friend of the title character, Krebs was a goofy, unusual character who had an unconventional look at life, avoided work, and served as a contrast to the more common American teenager, Gillis, played by Denver's college classmate Dwayne Hickman. Upon Denver's death, Hickman told Dennis McLellan of the Los Angeles Times, "He had a wonderful sense of comedy, great timing, and he had sweet personality on the screen. I loved working with him. I was proud to be his straight man."
A year after The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis ended its run, Denver was cast in the role with which he would be most closely identified for the rest of his life. From 1964 to 1967, Denver played Willy Gilligan, the title character, in the hit CBS sitcom Gilligan's Island. The show focused on the adventures of a group of misfit castaways from all strata of society who had been shipwrecked on a tropical island in the South Pacific. Gilligan had been the first mate on the ship, the S.S. Minnow, before the wreck, and much of the show's humor was derived from his naiveté and physical humor from run-ins with the ship's captain, Jonas Grumby, known as the Skipper. When the show ended, it ran nearly continuously in syndication for decades.
In addition to the syndicated reruns of the original 98 shows, Denver portrayed Gilligan in numerous other television shows. He provided the voice of Gilligan in two animated versions of the show, including 1974's Gilligan's Planet. He also acted as Gilligan in three television movies based on the series, 1978's Rescue from Gilligan's Island, 1979's The Cast-aways on Gilligan's Island, and 1981's The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island. Denver even appeared as Gilligan in an episode of Baywatch in 1992 and a low-budget film called Miss Cast Away.
While Maynard G. Krebs and Gilligan were the characters with which Denver was most identified, he also had a variety of other roles. He appeared in a few films such as 1963's Take Her, She's Mine and 1967's Who's Minding the Mint?. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Denver appeared in a number of other television shows, none of which lasted for long. From 1968 to 1970, he played Rufus Butterworth in The Good Guys. Denver then appeared on Broadway in 1970 in the Woody Allen-penned Play It Again, Sam. Denver replaced Allen himself in the lead role in the play.
Back in Los Angeles, Denver returned to television in the 1973 short-lived syndicated clone of Gilligan's Island called Dusty Trails. Instead of an island, Dusty Trails was set on a lost wagon train. In 1975, Denver played another Gilligan-like role in Far Out Space Nuts, a children's program produced by Sid and Marty Krofft that only lasted a year.
In the 1970s, Denver moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he made his home for a number of years. In addition to his Gilligan-related roles, Denver also appeared in a number of dinner theater productions. In addition, Denver wrote his memoir, 1993's Gilligan, Maynard & Me. In the mid-1990s, he moved to Princeton, West Virginia, with his third wife, Dreama Perry Denver. By the end of his life, he was hosting a syndicated radio program with his wife. The show, Little Buddy Radio, played the oldies.
In the early 2000s, Denver began suffering from ill health. He developed cancer and received treatment at North Carolina's Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. In May of 2005, he also had to have quadruple bypass surgery. Denver died from complications related to his cancer treatment on September 2, 2005, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was 70 years old. Denver is survived by his wife of 28 years, sons Patrick and Colin, daughters Megan and Emily, and a granddaughter.Sources: Chicago Tribune, September 7, 2005, sec. 3, p. 8; CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/TV/09/06/denver.obit.ap/index.html (September 8, 2005); Entertainment Weekly, September 16, 2005, p. 18; E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,17298,00.html?fdnews (September 8, 2005); Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2005, p. B10; New York Times, September 7, 2005, p. A27; People, September 19, 2005, pp. 208-09; Times (London), September 9, 2005, p. 79; Washington Post, September 7, 2005, p. B6.