Rumors persisted for years that Bob Denver died in the Sixties, and no one knows why
The rumors started while he was still on Dobie Gillis and continued until Gilligan’s Island. Sometimes fans would mourn him to his face.
In 1960, Bob Denver was barely into the first season of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, in which he played a beatnik named Maynard G. Krebs. Although the show and his character proved popular, that was the same year that newspapers declared beatniks as a culture "dead," and we think this might have led to one of the biggest rumors in Bob Denver's acting career: that Bob Denver died in 1960.
Even though Denver continued to appear as Maynard G. Krebs, the rumor mill churned out all kinds of theories on how Denver passed. Some theories circled around the bathroom, imagining Denver met this mythical fate by electrocuting himself in the bathtub or from a deep wound caused by carelessly shaving that beatnik beard of his.
"I don't know where it got started, but every time I think I've got it squashed, it pops up again," Denver told The Tampa Times in 1961. "One day I got a telephone call from a newspaperman who wanted to know who my press agent was. I told him I didn't have a press agent, but it was a long time before he believed me. He figured the whole thing was a publicity stunt."
At least one person bought into the rumor of Denver's supposed death so deeply that they concocted a conspiracy theory that two actors played Maynard G. Krebs!
"Experts in the matter of false rumors tell me these things usually die a normal death after six months," Denver told the papers. "The only trouble is, this story has been circulating for nearly a year now. I got on a plane one day and one of the passengers insisted I was the second fellow to play the part of Maynard Krebs."
Other Dobie Gillis fans simply didn't recognize Denver… and ended up mourning Denver's loss right to his face.
"In San Diego, someone told me I looked just like the fellow on Dobie Gillis who was killed," Denver said. "On another plane, someone else said to me, 'Isn't it too bad about that beatnik kid on Dobie Gillis?'"
"Who do they think I am?" Denver asked, perplexed.
Denver never fully understood why this fake death rumor persisted as long as it did.
"Anyway, I'm alive and I guess in pretty good company," Denver joked in 1961. "Usually rumors like this only spread about big stars like Frank Sinatra."
A year into these crazy rumors, Denver vowed to move on from caring that some people in the world thought he was dead. He was pretty busy because, on top of being a very visible and alive TV star, he had also literally moved, settling his family into a giant mansion fixer-upper.
"I'm not going to worry about it any longer," Denver said. "There are enough other things to worry about. My wife, our two sons and our animals have just moved into a big, rambling house. Why couldn't we be like ordinary people and move into a modern house? So far, our water pipes have broken five times, our lights keep going on and off, our sprinkler system doesn't work and I planted a lawn that died."
"Hey, maybe that's where the story started," Denver joked. "Get that straight, it was my lawn that died."
When Denver talked to The Tampa Times in 1961, he told the reporter, "If you can help stop this story, I'm with you."
But we found evidence that the 1961 story fully denying the rumors still wasn't enough to stop them, not even three years later.
In 1964, Denver had just spent a year off after Dobie Gillis. He told Fort Lauderdale News that he turned down five TV shows and three movies because they were all too much like his Dobie character Maynard.
You can hardly blame him for being done playing beatniks. In a way, you could say his role as Maynard G. Krebs had nearly killed him, at least in the public eye.
Instead of diving into the next acting gig, Denver spent some time as the man of the old house he bought.
"I figured, I couldn't go on playing Maynard forever," Denver said. "I may not have grown as an actor during that year, but I sure discovered things you can do at home. I landscaped the place twice, learned how to use a set of power tools, how to drain an automobile radiator, and discovered that a motorcycle is the answer to the traffic problem."
While Denver was busy with home repairs and motorcycle rides, the rumor of his death came roaring back to life when a fan in Tennessee sent in a question to a TV column in The Manhattan Mercury in 1964.
"Sometime ago, I heard that Bob Denver who played Maynard on Dobie Gillis was killed in an accident," wrote Mrs. R.T. in Memphis. "Is this just another of those awful rumors or is it true?"
The columnist assured Mrs. R.T. of the truth, revealing she wasn't the only one wondering, and also sharing big news for Bob Denver fans in mourning:
"This is one of the most persistent rumors our mailbag has ever had. Bob Denver is hale and hearty and will be seen as the star of his own series next season titled Gilligan's Island."
After Gilligan's Island became a hit, a funny thing happened. Suddenly, fans believed a new rumor: that Denver really was an island castaway. They actually contacted the Coast Guard when the show aired to try and save him and everybody else on the island.
Hey, at least they knew Bob Denver was alive to need saving!
Denver was excited when Gilligan's Island came along, not just because he'd been waiting for the next gig, but also because he had finally become bored puttering around his big old house.
Of joining the cast, Denver told Fort Lauderdale News the role came just in time. "I've done EVERYTHING you can do at home," he swore.
"My wife will be happy to get me out of the house," the very much alive-and-well star joked to Miami News.
You know what they say — happy wife, happy life — and any fan who somehow still believes Bob Denver passed away in the Sixties should note that really at that time, he definitely had both!