LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Alan Hale Jr., who was a little-known character actor until he struck lasting fame as the excitable skipper of the 1960s hit television comedy ''Gilligan's Island,' has died of cancer.

Hale died Tuesday at St. Vincent Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized for about a month, said Bonnie Churchill, a family spokeswoman.

She said Hale was 68; entertainment reference books indicate he was 71.

Hale appeared in 65 films but became famous as the captain who led a mismatched band of castaways on ''Gilligan's Island,'' which blossomed into one of the most often rerun shows in TV history.

''He enjoyed every single minute of it,'' said actor Bob Denver, who portrayed Gilligan, the portly skipper's albatross and accident-prone first mate. ''He wore his skipper's hat all the time.''

The actor asked to be cremated and his ashes scattered at sea Saturday by the Neptune Society.

''He was a great guy and a great physical comic,'' said Denver, who made personal appearances with Hale as recently as six months ago. ''He was so strong that I could run across the stage and he could catch me like a feather. That's what made our comedy so great.''

The TV show dealt with the ill-fated SS Minnow, shipwrecked on an uncharted South Pacific isle after a freak storm during what was supposed to be a three- hour tour.

A native of Los Angeles, Hale came from a show business family; his father was a matinee idol in silent films and his mother was an actress. The younger Hale bore a strong resemblance to his father, who also played sidekick roles with Errol Flynn in such classics as ''The Sea Hawk'' and ''Robin Hood.''

But Hale was a marginally known character actor until his ''Gilligan's Island'' success. The show originally ran from 1964 to 1967 before going into syndication.

The original cast, which included the late Jim Backus as millionaire Thurston Howell III, got together in 1978 to make a two-part ''Gilligan's Island'' special in which the castaways were finally rescued, only to be shipwrecked again while on a reunion cruise.

Two more sequel specials were broadcast in 1979 and 1981.

Hale is survived by his wife of 25 years, Naomi; their four children and a sister.