, who collects no residuals for his work on the enduring 1960s sitcom Gilligan's Island
, applauds the megabucks deal the cast of Friends
"Good for them," Denver, 65, tells us by phone from his home in rural West Virginia. "It's a whole different ballgame now."
Denver, who now makes his living through personal appearances and his bobdenver.com web site, had little reason to believe back in 1964 that his role as the Skipper's goofy "little buddy" would carry into the new millennium. He certainly couldn't have predicted in those days before cable TV that reruns of the show would one day return to prime time via Nick at Nite (a stunt marathon runs June 4 to 9; regularly scheduled episodes begin airing June 12).
"If somebody had told me that Gilligan's Island was going to run for 35 years, I'd look at them and say they were out of their minds," he says. "It was just a little half-hour sitcom. It was silly, it was just for fun."
Denver says he and fellow surviving castaways Dawn Wells and Russell Johnson (Mary Ann and the Professor) have met with more than half a million fans at various personal appearances in recent years. "Fans just start smiling and they get so happy," he says. "They just go back to being 9-year-olds in front of me." (The only other surviving cast member, Tina Louise, who played Ginger, tends to shy away from the spotlight.)
Don't try calling down-to-earth Denver an icon, though. "An icon is a religious painting on wood," he explains. "Yes, people know who I am immediately. It doesn't make you an icon, it just makes you recognizable."