Dawn Wells, who played Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers on the classic TV sitcom "Gilligan's Island," died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles of COVID-19 complications. She was 82.
A rep for Wells confirmed the news to TODAY.
A former Miss Nevada, Wells shot to fame as the sweetly naive girl-next-door castaway Mary Ann when "Gilligan's Island" debuted on CBS in 1964. She reportedly beat out 350 other young starlets for the role.
Joining Wells' character on the shipwrecked SS Minnow were Gilligan (Bob Denver), the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.). millionaire Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus) and his wife, Lovey (Natalie Schafer), the Professor (Russell Johnson) and Hollywood starlet Ginger Grant (Tina Louise).
She reprised the role of Mary Ann in three TV movies: "Rescue from Gilligan's Island" (1978), "The Castaways on Gilligan's Island" (1979) and "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island" (1981).
Wells' other television credits include guest spots on "Vega$," "Growing Pains," "The Bold and the Beautiful" and "Baywatch," where she reprised Mary Ann once more.
She also starred on the web series "Life Interrupted" and voiced the character Gumbalina Toothington in the animated series "The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants."
Wells opened up about playing Mary Ann in her 2014 book, "What Would Mary Ann Do?: A Guide to Life" (co-written with Steve Stinson).
"Every character on 'Gilligan's Island' was given a broad 'stock' comedy role to fill — captain, mate, wealthy man, wealthy wife, professor, movie star — except one. Mary Ann was not given a character description," Wells wrote in her book.
"She was given a name and location — Kansas farm girl. I had to fill in the blanks. So, from the get-go, the Mary Ann character was different. She wasn't a Hollywood creation. She was molded by me, from me."
She went on to say that Mary Ann's values and principles are timeless.
"I know this because the core of Mary Ann is really me. I mean, I built her from scratch. You can't ignore it. It's your essence. If you play a character long enough on stage or screen, I think your true self shows through."
During a September 2014 visit to TODAY, Wells said she understood sweet-natured Mary Ann's appeal to viewers.
"She either would have been your girlfriend (or) she'd have been your best friend. I wouldn't try to take your boyfriend away from you. I'd have gone to the prom. I cook. I clean. I do it all," she said, laughing.
Wells is survived by her stepsister, Weslee Wells.