Dawn Wells, the actress best known for her iconic role as the sweet, girl-next-door castaway Mary Ann Summers on the 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island, died Wednesday, December 30, at the age of 82. Her death is attributed to complications related to COVID-19.
According to her publicist, Harlan Boll, Wells passed at her home in Los Angeles “peacefully” and was not in any pain. She is survived by a stepsister, Weslee Wells; no memorial services are scheduled at this time, Bolls stated.
Wells, a Nevada native, got a kickstart to her fame by representing her state in the 1959 Miss America pageant. From there, she moved into acting, taking roles on TV shows such as 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick and Bonanza before beating out 350 other actresses to land what would become her signature role.
Wells sported pigtails, high-waisted shorts, gingham dresses (which are currently on display for fans at the Hollywood Museum) and an innocent farm-girl demeanor which the series used to play off fellow Gilligan’s Island alum Tina Louise, who played worldly movie star Ginger on the show. The question “Mary Ann or Ginger?” thus became a famous pop culture theoretical debate, that to this day is used as shorthand to signify a choice between a “good girl” and a “sexpot.”
Wells’ death leaves Louise, 86, as the sole living member of that show’s memorable cast.
Following the close of the series in 1967, the actress went on to other, smaller TV and film roles, and also distinguished herself on the stage. According to Variety, she appeared in the national tours of Chapter Two and They’re Playing Our Song as well as in Fatal Attraction, The Odd Couple, Steel Magnolias and The Vagina Monologues.
In 2018, a friend of Wells’ launched a GoFundMe drive to help cover medical and other costs for Wells, claiming that the actress had lost her life savings and had been injured in an accident, requiring her to take time off to heal. The fund collected more than $180,000 for her expenses.