We’re living longer these days, but reaching age 90 is still a major accomplishment! Here are my favorite Hollywood nonagenarians!
When you reach age 90, that’s worth a celebration. One of America’s favorite performers, Betty White, just reached the last year of her ninth decade. We’re all hoping for a 100th birthday for her…and many more. In the meantime, I decided to make a list of my favorite Hollywood nonagenarians!
A nonagenarian, in case you didn’t guess, is someone who is between 90 and 99 years old.
10. Tippi Hedren
Director Alfred Hitchcock spotted Hedren in a commercial for the Sego diet drink. He liked what he saw and cast her in his thriller, The Birds. She would later appear in a second Hitchcock film, Marnie. The Birds is among my favorite of Hitch’s films.
But in addition to those roles, I also respect her passion for animals. She created the Roar Foundation in 1983 to support California’s Shambala Preserve.
9. Johnny Gilbert
If you’re a fan of game shows, you certainly know Johnny Gilbert’s work. For 36 years now, he has been the announcer on the syndicated Jeopardy! But at 96 (or 92, depending on the bio), Gilbert is still at the mic at an age when many announcers — and workers in almost any other profession — would have long-since retired. And his voice sounds as great as ever!
8. Bob Newhart
Newhart’s career dates back to the 1950s with his standup routines, into the 1970s and 1980s with his famous sitcoms, and even into the 1990s and 2000s with memorable guest spots on shows like ER and Big Bang Theory. You can characterize Newhart’s comedy as the quiet type that makes you think.
We need more comedy like that these days.
7. Harry Belafonte
I was late to appreciate Belafonte’s Calypso music. Then I saw a 1985 HBO special that featured Belafonte in concert, Please Don’t Stop the Carnival. And I was immediately hooked.
Many may not realize that beyond his music, Belafonte is a civil rights activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s. And I just recently learned, from a documentary on Peacock, that Belafonte guest-hosted The Tonight Show for a full week in February 1968. His guests that week included King, Sen. Robert Kennedy, Sidney Poitier, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby and Dionne Warwick.
6. Dick Van Dyke
At 95, Dick Van Dyke might be one of the most active Hollywood nonagenarians on my list. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, he posted a video of himself receiving the first round of the COVID vaccine. After receiving it, he led others, including nurses, in a chorus of “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins, one of the many roles for which is so well known.
Other than that film, Bye Bye Birdie or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, you probably know him for The Dick Van Dyke Show in which he starred with Mary Tyler Moore. You may also know him as physician-turned-sleuth Dr. Mark Sloan from Diagnosis: Murder. You may even recall him from a guest role on The Golden Girls in which he played an attorney who dreamed of being a circus clown!
5. James Earl Jones
A couple of generations will forever associate Jones with the voice of Darth Vader. I suspect Jones probably laughs about that irony all the way to the bank, even to this day. But the deep-voiced actor’s career has spanned more than seven decades.
He made his film debut in Dr. Strangelove, another in my long list of favorite films. But he was on Broadway before that, performing in Shakespearean plays. Can you imagine attending Shakespeare and hearing a voice like that?
4. Mel Brooks
I just invoked the name of Mel Brooks in my recent post about my first colonoscopy. I mentioned that I was warned before arriving that after the procedure was over, I’d find myself in a room with others who’d gone through the procedure. Before we could leave, we’d have to pass a certain amount of gas. That notion — which turned out not to be true — immediately reminded me of a Brooks film. If you’ve seen Blazing Saddles, you know the scene I’m referring to.
The fact that anyone can have a career of producing so many memories should make all of us grateful that they graced our collective presence at all. There’s no question that he would make my favorite Hollywood nonagenarians list.
3. Norman Lear
I grew up at the perfect time when it came to TV. I watched the majority of Normal Lear sitcoms make their debut. My favorite, of course, was All in the Family. What amazes me about that show to this day is its continued relevance. The social issues the Bunkers and Stivics argued about in the 1970s are the same issues people still argue over today.
That seems like it says a lot about our society.
2. Bob Barker
Some of us diehard fans of The Price is Right, folks Barker called “loyal friends and true,” still miss him on that show. He retired after 35 years of hosting ‘Price’ back in 2007. Some of us feel the show has never been as good since.
But he enjoyed a long run with another audience participation show, Truth or Consequences, from 1956 to 1974. Both shows were a perfect fit for him. Their formats allowed him to work with unrehearsed contestants with whom he could make what he called “spontaneous entertainment.”
Barker has had some health scares over the past few years, but at 97, that’s to be expected. He’s another I hope will see his 100th birthday.
1. Betty White
When Larry King once asked Don Rickles his thoughts on Betty White, Rickles said she was probably going to just dissolve on camera, referring to her Hollywood staying power.
White, who turned 99 in January, said a sense of humor is the key to her staying “forever young.” I hope she stays that way for a long time to come!
That’s my list of favorite Hollywood nonagenarians. How many of these would make your Top 10?