Today, Bob Denver is remembered for playing Gilligan in the ‘60s classic Gilligan’s Island. But prior to landing the title role of this television classic, Bob Denver’s breakout role was on the series, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in 1959.Just as he was beginning to receive recognition and praise for this role, a strange rumor began circulating that he had died and had been replaced on the show. Continue watching to find out the details of these strange death rumors.
Shortly after Denver graduated college, he began a career as an elementary school teacher at a catholic school in Southern California. But his teaching days were short-lived after he landed an audition for the supporting role in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and got the part. The series began in 1959 and was about Dobie Gillis, a teenager who is a bit of an aimless drifter but aspires to have money and the attention of beautiful women. Bob Denver played his beatnik best friend, Maynard G. Krebs. The character of Maynard loved jazz, hated authority and work, and avoided romance. He was American television’s first beatnik. But that same year, newspapers were calling beatniks a “dead” culture. And perhaps the use of the word “dead” confused a few people because that same year a rumor started that Bob Denver had died, even though he was very much alive.
Despite the fact that Bob Denver continued to portray Maynard G. Krebs on television, the rumor of his death continued to spread. A variety of stories about how he died started circulating. Some said he electrocuted himself in the bathtub and others claimed he suffered a deep wound shaving his beatnik beard.
Though many people assured Denver that most rumors fizzle out within a few months, the stories of his death persisted well into 1961. You might be wondering how people explained the fact that he still appeared weekly on Dobie Gillis if he had died, but some actually believed that Denver had been replaced by a different, but similar-looking, actor. One time on an airplane, when a fan recognized him, they insisted he was the second actor to play Maynard G. Krebs. Another time, someone told him he looked just like the guy on Dobie Gillis who was killed. A confused Denver tried to correct these false claims any chance he could, but he was left perplexed at the persistence of the rumor. Eventually he decided to stop caring whether or not some people thought he was dead and continued acting and living his life, feeling certain the death rumors would die down naturally.
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After The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis ran for four years, ending in 1963, Denver took a year off from work, turning down several roles in movies and television that he felt were too similar to the beatnik character he was known for. And though it was hard to turn down roles, he wanted to avoid being typecast as a beatnik, knowing it wouldn’t allow him to grow as an actor. He took the opportunity to spend time with his wife, two sons, and pets, and to do work around the new home he and his family had settled into. Though at one point, he told a newspaper that he found the task of doing handyman house work more difficult than he had anticipated, admitting the lawn he planted had died. Denver joked that people needed to get that fact straight: it was his lawn that died, not him. After a year, he was ready to get back to acting.
That same year, in 1964, the Bob Denver death rumor popped up again, when a fan wrote into the TV column, The Manhattan Mercury. The fan asked the TV columnist if it was true that Bob Denver had really died in an accident. The columinsit assured the fan and all his readers that he was very much alive and announced he would be starring in his own show called Gilligan’s Island, a sitcom about seven people stranded on an uncharted tropical island,The emergence of Gilligan’s Island seemed to finally put a cap on the death rumor.
But Gilligan’s Island led to a new, oddball fan rumor. Some people actually started to believe that Bob Denver was really an island castaway. Some even tried to contact the National Coast Guard in an attempt to save him and the rest of the gang. It seems like an impossible idea in today’s world that anyone would take a television show as truth, but perhaps in the early days of television, the line between reality and fiction was less clear and many were apt to believe everything they saw.
Though Gilligan’s Island only lasted for three seasons, it became a syndicated classic that many Americans grew up watching for decades. After Gilligan’s Island ended, Bob Denver went on to reprise the role of Gilligan in made-for-TVmovies and as guest stars on other TV shows including Baywatch and ALF. He also starred in sitcoms including The Good Guys, Dusty’s Trail, and the kids’ show Far Out Space Nuts. He also appeared in several films and on broadway in Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam. Later in life, he settled down in Princeton, West Virginia and ran an oldies FM radio station with his wife, Dreama.
Bob Denver’s last public appearance was at the TV Land Awards in 2004. That same year, he began struggling with his health. He started to notice he was losing weight and couldn’t shake what he believed to be a case of laryngitis. He sought out an ear, nose, and throat specialist and the doctor found an unusual growth in his throat. Shortly after, it was discovered that he had stage 4 hypopharyngeal cancer, a rare cancer in the lowermost part of his throat.
Sadly, heart disease limited his treatment options and in 2005, he passed at the age of 70.
But apparently, many people did not get the news that he died in 2005 and his death suddenly began trending on social media nearly a decade later in 2013. With Rest In Peace tweets, fans mourned as if it had just happened.
The odd thing is, this happened two more times afterwards. In 2016, his death was once again trending on twitter and even comedian D.L. Hughley reposted the trending article about his death. Some twitter users added him to the long list of beloved celebrities who died in 2016.
Then in 2017 an image claiming he died in January of that year began circulating on social media and his death was once again trending. Similar to the original death rumor in 1961, when fans kept insisting Denver had died, the internet couldn’t seem to stop killing off Bob Denver.
Bob Denver is not the only celebrity who has had to deal with false death announcements. Here are a few other celebrity death hoaxes.
You might know Abe Vigoda from Barney Miller and Fish, or from his role in The Godfather. Vigoda was first reported dead in 1982, when he was only 60 years old. Several years later, another reporter referred to him as the “late Abe Vigoda.” Old age and death jokes followed him for the rest of his life until he really died in 2016 at the age of 94.
The classic Hollywood leading man, Robert Redford, was reported as dead in 2015 by Britain’s Sky News. They reported he had died after falling off a golf cart. This fake news story was quickly corrected by others as nothing but a hoax.
The Saturday Night Live comedian, Chevy Chase, whose famous roles include Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation was falsely reported dead in 2016. A fake news story in Breaking 13 News claimed he had a heart attack and died in his sleep. Chevy Chase is still alive and acting at the age of 77.
Five years prior to his actual death, Bob Hope was reported as dead after a pre-written obituary was accidentally published on the Associated Press website in 1998. To make matters worse, the United States House of Representatives announced his supposed death live on C-Span. Bob Hope actually passed in 2003 of pneumonia at the age of 100.
Rumors of Cher’s death started after the creation of a Facebook group called “R.I.P. Cher.” The fake reports of her death began trending and gained a million likes. But Cher is still very much alive today and likely will be for a while. As the saying goes, “If there’s a nuclear war, only two species will survive: cockroaches and Cher.”
False reports of death apparently just comes with the territory of being famous. Bob Denver was certainly no stranger to bizarre and false reports surrounding his death. But let’s be thankful Bob Denver didn’t really die in 1960 when the original death rumors surfaced or he never would have been able to portray the beloved character of Gilligan.
What’s your favorite Bob Denver memory from Gilligan’s Island? Let us know in the comments below. Or let us know which celebrity death hoaxes you’ve fallen for. And don’t forget to like this video and hit the subscribe button.