We lost the Professor this week. CNN reports that the news was released by Russell Johnson’s agent, who we assume was the activity director at his nursing home.
I shared that rather tepid joke on social media, and friends facetiously scolded me for mocking a national treasure and hero. And good grief, based on his bio, Congress will soon be approving a monument in his honor. Highlights include a Purple Heart for being shot down in the Philippines in WWII and fundraising for AIDS research.
So let me be clear, I have nothing but love for the late Mr. Johnson. As an Atlanta child of the 1970s, spent hundreds of formative hours planted in front of the television, watching Ted Turner’s groundbreaking satellite pioneer Channel 17, WTCG (call letters he adopted to boldly and accurately encourage us all to Watch This Channel Grow). So my heart holds a special place for Johnson and the entire Gilligan’s Island cast, as well as folks like Fred Gwynne, Don Adams and the girl from the Partridge Family, whom I had my first celebrity crush on (and who apparently now manages an Office Max, so crush sustained).
Apparently I’m not the only one with fond personal memories of actors from iconic shows that shaped popular culture. When Googling Johnson’s background after his death, I stumbled across a mesmerizing fan phenomenon: The YouTube memorial video. Within minutes after news of the Professor’s death, several people posted these seemingly earnest videos to honor his life. Here is a 10-second tribute lovingly titled “Unfortunately Russell Johnson died January 16, 2013,” apparently a full year before Johnson’s agent reported it.
And another, with a moving original score by the poster. Don’t look away–those photos will zoom closer!
And here’s perhaps the most poignant, a full minute of silence in memoriam:
Finally, here’s a delightful Raleigh cigarette commercial in which Johnson played a minor role. “We buy cancer by the carton, and we get these fabulous molded chairs for free!”