Dawn Wells, Mary Ann on 'Gilligan's Island,' has died of complications from COVID-19 at 82

Erin Donnelly
·4 min read

Dawn Wells, who found fame as pigtailed castaway Mary Ann Summers on the 1960s hit sitcom Gilligan’s Island, died Wednesday morning in Woodland Hills, Calif., of complications from COVID-19, publicist Harlan Boll has announced. The actress was 82 years old.

“America's favorite castaway, Dawn Wells, passed peacefully this morning, in no pain, as a result of complications due to COVID, at the age of 82,” Boll said in a statement to Yahoo Entertainment. The statement, which lists her time of death as 7:30 a.m., also notes that “there is so much more to Dawn Wells than Mary Ann.”

Born in Reno, Nev., on Oct. 18, 1938, Wells competed in beauty pageants as a young woman, going on to be named Miss Nevada in 1959 and representing her home state in the 1960 Miss America pageant. That same year, she graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in theater arts and design.

Dawn Wells (pictured in 2019) has died from COVID-19. (Photo: Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)
Dawn Wells (pictured in 2019) has died from COVID-19. (Photo: Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

Hollywood soon beckoned, leading to a string of appearances in shows including The Roaring 20s (which marked her acting debut), 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Bonanza, The Joey Bishop Show and The Cheyenne Show. She also had minor roles in the films Palm Springs Weekend and The New Interns.

But it was Gilligan’s Island, which hit TV screens in 1964, that cemented her TV star status. Her character Mary Ann, the Kansas farm girl who found herself shipwrecked with six other passengers of the ill-fated SS Minnow, remains a pop-culture icon and Halloween costume favorite more than 50 years after the show ended in 1967. (With Wells’s death, Tina Louise, who played movie star Ginger, becomes the show’s last surviving cast member.)

Wells found fame as pigtailed castaway Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island. (Photo: Everett Collection)
Wells found fame as pigtailed castaway Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island. (Photo: Everett Collection)

Wells — who auctioned off her character’s famous denim shorts and gingham blouse in 2005 for more than $20,000 — would reprise the girl next door role in multiple reunion specials as well as in shows like Baywatch and ALF. In 1993, she published Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook and released What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life in 2014 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the sitcom’s debut.

TIna Louise (center) is now the show's last surviving cast member. (Photo: Everett Collection)
TIna Louise (center) is now the show's last surviving cast member. (Photo: Everett Collection)

Wells continued to act post-Gilligan’s, with film credits including The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Return to Boggy Creek and Super Sucker. She starred in dozens of musical theater productions, including her own one-woman show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1985. She also had guest spots on TV shows such as Growing Pains, Roseanne and, more recently, The Bold and the Beautiful, and appeared as herself on Girlfriends and RuPaul’s Drag U. Her last acting credit is a guest voice role, in 2019, in The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants, and had recently announced on Facebook that her 1997 fishing series, Dawn Wells: Reel Adventures, would soon be made available on Amazon Prime.

Wells also made headlines off-screen in recent years. In 2008, her mug shot went viral following a marijuana-related arrest. A decade later, in 2018, it emerged that she was struggling to pay for her health-care bills after taking a fall and requiring rehabilitation. A GoFundMe page started by a friend drummed up nearly $200,000 in donations, prompting the actress to thank fans for their “kindness and affection.”

“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,” Wells, who was married to Larry Rosen from 1962 to 1967 and had no children, told Fox News at the time.

Wells’s Facebook features a recorded video message of her sending Christmas greetings fans posted just days ago.

“I know I will have a new appreciation in a simple gathering of college friends at a coffee shop a few months from now,” she wrote in a comment underneath her video. “Please find joy amidst the pandemic and be cognizant of our overwhelmed first responders. Let’s not let our actions make a bigger burden for them. I am thankful and in awe of the dedication of our health care professionals.”

Wells is survived by her stepsister, Weslee Wells. According to Boll, no memorial services are scheduled at this time and in lieu of flowers, donations are requested to The Elephant Sanctuary, The Shambala Preserve and the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum.

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