In January, 2014 at the age of 89, Russell passed away in his sleep.
But as recently as a month earlier, he was still signing autographs. For five decades after he first played that quirky role, the public never lost interest.
What was that role?
Russell was "The Professor," Dr. Roy Hinkley on the TV series "Gilligan's Island."
"Gilligan" was the story of seven people on a three hour cruise aboard the S.S. Minnow, who somehow survived on an unchartered Pacific island, after their boat ran aground, damaged beyond repair.
Most TV critics said the show was horrifically bad.
But the public loved it, as from its start in 1964 it ran for three seasons. In the 1970's and 80s, there were three made for TV "Gilligan" movies, and two cartoon series, "The New Adventures of Gilligan," and "Gilligan's Planet."
"Gilligan" went global, translated into 30 languages, and it still runs today in reruns, a huge hit show.
But Russell's personal life had not been so glamorous.
His father died when Russell was just nine years old, and with six children, his mother couldn't afford to keep the family together. Russell and two of his brothers were sent to an orphanage, where Russell lived for nine years, until turning 18.
That was in 1942, during World War ll. Russell served in the Army Air Forces, and was shot down over the Philippines, receiving a Purple Heart.
After the War, Russell used the G.I. Bill to study at the Actors Laboratory in Hollywood, and soon began landing acting roles.
Prior to "Gilligan," Russell had played mostly villains in movies and TV shows, but after "Gilligan," the public saw him as a clean cut good guy, often as "The Professor."
So Russell was cast primarily as good guys for the rest of his career.
He also made many personal appearances as "The Professor," in fan gatherings and was a guest speaker at corporate events. And during his travels, everywhere Russell went, he was recognized and greeted by people.
As for that unchartered Pacific island, it was located nowhere near the ocean, but at a CBS studio in Hollywood.