September 06, 2005
RIP, Bob Denver

Goodbye, Gilligan.

Bob Denver, whose portrayal of goofy castaway Gilligan on the 1960s TV show Gilligan's Island made him an iconic figure to generations of TV viewers, has died. He was 70.

He died Friday at Wake Forest University Baptist Hospital in North Carolina of complications from treatment he was receiving for cancer, his agent, Mike Eisenstadt, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

I'm a child of the 70s and 80s. I've seen every episode. Reading this obituary got me to thinking about iconicness.

Denver's signature role was Gilligan, but when he took the role in 1964 he was already widely known to TV audiences for another iconic character, Maynard G. Krebs, the bearded beatnik friend of Dwayne Hickman's Dobie in the The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which aired on CBS from 1959 to 1963.

Krebs, whose only desire was to play the bongos and hang out at coffee houses, would shriek every time the word "work" was mentioned in his presence.

I've never seen that show. I've heard of the character and knew he was a beatnik, but knew nothing else about it.

Denver went on to star in other TV series, including The Good Guys and Dusty's Trail, as well as to make numerous appearances in films and TV shows.

But he never escaped the role of Gilligan, so much so that in one of his top 10 lists - "the top 10 things that will make you stand up and cheer" - Late Show host David Letterman once simply shouted out Denver's name to raucous applause.

"It was the mid-'70s when I realized it wasn't going off the air," Denver told The Associated Press in 2001, noting then that he enjoyed checking eBay each day to keep up on the prices Gilligan's Island memorabilia were fetching.

"I certainly didn't set out to have a series rerun forever, but it's not a bad experience at all," he added.

Every now and then I think about some of the cultural touchstones of my youth and wonder how much - or if at all - I'll share those experiences with Olivia. You can give all the usual reasons why Gilligan's Island will be to her as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is to me - mostly, many more entertainment options clamoring for her attention - but I think it's simpler than that. I outgrew Gilligan's Island in the 1970s. I don't watch any of those "iconic" shows any more - in many cases, I haven't seen them since they went off the air, whether or not they're still airing somewhere today. I suppose Olivia may be surfing Nickelodeon or TVLand some day and and pause long enough to say "Hey, Dad, did you ever watch this?", but beyond that I'm hard pressed to think of a reason why she'd ever know anything about them. Maybe it'll be different for other parents and other kids, I couldn't say. But if Bob Denver's legacy will live on beyond my demographic, it probably won't be because of me.

I suppose a small part of me is sad about that. Who doesn't like sharing childhood memories with their kids, even the cheesy ones? But I think there'll be plenty of that; they'll just be memories I actually bother to remember from time to time. That'll leave more room for us to discover new things together, and that more than makes up for any icons that get discarded along the way.

Sorry, Bob. Rest in peace anyway.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 06, 2005 to TV and movies | TrackBack

Reading this post made me think about recurring themes in television shows from the 1960s through the 1980s. I came up with the following:

1960s - Shows with silly premises - My Favorite Martian, Gilligan's Island, and The Beverly Hillbillies and the like were the usual fare. Not the most mind enhancing shows, but they offered a silly type of fun.

1970s - The Shows that Wouldn't Die - Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, MASH, and Little House on the Prarie all went about five seasons too long.

I have to admit, however, that my family turned Little House on the Prarie into our own version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The sappier the episode, the better. My two favorites for this type of parody are the "Mary Goes Blind" and "Fire in the Blind School", but I am a sick, twisted human being. :-)

As for the others, let's just say that there's a reason the Jump the Shark web site exists.

1980s - Soaps and sensibility - On the one hand, there was Dallas, Dynasty, and Knots Landing. On the other, there was The Cosby Show.

I know I've kept this basic, however, it's something to consider.

Posted by: William Hughes on September 7, 2005 3:49 AM