What was Dawn Wells' net worth? Here's why 'Gilligan's Island' star was broke as she died at 82 from Covid-19

A medical emergency exposed to the world the financial difficulties the actress was facing because of the 2008 financial crisis

                            What was Dawn Wells' net worth? Here's why 'Gilligan's Island' star was broke as she died at 82 from Covid-19
Dawn Wells (Getty Images)

The death toll of 2020 rises. This time it is the 'Gilligan's Island' star, Dawn Wells, who became famous for playing the sweet, girl-next-door character of Mary Ann Summers. On the iconic '60s sitcom, Well's naive Kansas farm girl character was often contrasted with actress Tina Louise’s Ginger, who played a sultry movie star. With Wells’ passing, Tina Louise is the only cast member who is still alive from the show's cast. Wells had once said in an interview that Mary Ann was her, sharing the same values and principles. “I know this because the core of Mary Ann is really me. I mean, I built her from scratch ... if you play a character long enough on stage or screen, I think your true self shows through,” Wells had said.

Cause of Dawn Wells' death

Wells had just turned 82 in October this year. She died due to Covid-19 related complications in Los Angeles on December 30, according to her publicist, Harlan Boll. She kept herself busy right till the end, doing at least one play a year. In her free time, she enjoyed fly fishing, oil painting, ice skating, cooking and traveling. Wells also wrote books related to her famous screen alter ego, namely, 'What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life' and 'Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook'.

Back in 2018, she had a "life-threatening surgery which came close to killing her," according to her longtime friend and hairstylist Dugg Kirkpatrick. The medical emergency exposed to the world the financial difficulties the actress was facing. 

Dawn Wells' financial problems

A GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $180,000 was set up by Kirkpatrick to pay for Wells’ “hospital costs” as well as penalties she owed the Internal Revenue Service. On the campaign page, he wrote: “Dawn is living one of the greatest fears we Americans have, an uncertain future." He explained that Wells had suffered an unexpected accident and had to have “life-threatening” surgery that left her with piles of bills.

"After 2008, like many of us, Dawn suffered through the banking crash and lost everything including her life savings in addition, to a life-threatening surgery which came close to killing her. Dawn was a victim of an unexpected accident that required hospitalization for two months and a very long time to rest and heal," said Kirkpatrick in the post asking fans and friends to donate.

Wells confirmed that the GoFundMe page was genuine on a Facebook post. She wrote: “I don’t know how this happened. I thought I was taking all the proper steps to ensure my golden years. Now, here I am, no family, no husband, no kids and no money. I’m grateful that God has given me so many friends and fans who care, or it would all be too... overwhelming.” The fund-raising campaign collected nearly $198K, with some 5,200 people contributing to support the star during a difficult time. 

Who was Dawn Wells married to?

Wells was married to talent agent Larry Rosen when she was hired for the Gilligan cast. She was married for five years (1962-67) but after their divorce, she never remarried. Speaking about being single as she aged, she said in an interview, “I always wanted to be a mother and have a big family,” she says. “But I never found the right person.”

However, her marriage to Rosen did give birth to an industry legend about her being the only cast member to receive residuals from the show's re-runs because Rosen had supposedly advised her to change a clause in her contract. This was denied by Wells several times as a myth.  

Why was Dawn Wells nearly broke?

Nowadays, actors in popular television shows are set for life financially. Cast members of hit shows such as 'Friends' or 'The Big Bang Theory' earn upward $1 million per episode and then earn millions more through residuals and royalties from syndication deals, DVD sales, and video streaming. But this was not always the case back in the day. And it certainly wasn't the case for Wells. A minor actor in a secondary role who dared to press for a contractual guarantee to perpetual royalties likely would have been curtly informed how quickly and easily she could be replaced.

In 2014, Wells said during an interview, that she was paid a salary roughly equivalent to $50,000 in today’s dollars and never received any residuals. "A misconception is that we must be wealthy, rolling in the dough, because we got residuals. We didn’t really get a dime. I think my salary — of course, I was low on the totem pole, Ginger [Tina Louise] and Thurston [Jim Backus] got more — was $750 a week. Sherwood Schwartz, our producer, reportedly made $90 million on the reruns alone!" Celebritynetworth.com put her net worth at $50 thousand at the time of her death on December 30.

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