The Oldest Famous Entertainers in History

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

According to the United Nations World Population Prospects, as of 2019 there were about 600,000 people alive who were 100 years old or older. Some of them are famous, such as television producer Norman Lear, TV journalist Bernard Kalb, and Rachel Robinson, widow of baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson. Two stars of Hollywood’s golden era – Olivia de Havilland and Kirk Douglas – were both centenarians when they passed. But they weren’t among the oldest notables from the world of show business.

To identify the noted entertainers and other show business figures who died the oldest, 24/7 Tempo reviewed online lists and news reports from various sources including the World Economic Forum, the Gerontology Research Group, and Wikipedia. We only considered individuals who lived 105 years or more. (Though only one of them, who is included here, made it longer than 105 years, here’s a list of 25 famous actors who lived to be over 100.)

Of the 21 oldest famous people on our list, 13 of them are women. Six people on our list were born in the 19th century and three of them – Mary Ellis, Tonio Selwart, and Frederica Sagor Maas – lived in three centuries. (Celebrities aside, these are the oldest people in the world today.)

Several people on the list kept active in their professions past the age of 100. Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira was working on a film until he died at 106. Dutch actor and vocalist Johannes Heesters, the oldest male on the list, dying at age 108, worked in movies until he was 104½. (Professional sports figures tend to have a shorter professional lifespan than playwrights or actors, but here are some athletes whose careers lasted into their 40s and beyond.)

Heesters performed during the Third Reich and was a favorite of Adolf Hitler. Though he has not involved in Nazi propaganda, some of his Dutch compatriots never forgave him for performing in Nazi Germany before and during WWII. In contrast, Norwegian stage actress and producer Gerda Ring, who lived to 107, refused to knuckle under and perform radio plays on a radio station that was under thumb of the Nazis. She eventually fled to Sweden and returned to Norway after the war.

Among the other notables on our list are director George Abbott, an 11-time Tony winner who lived until he was 107, and animator Ruthie Tompson, who helped create the magic of Disney animation and passed last year at age 111 – tying with screenwriter and playwright Frederica Sagor Maas, who died at the same age in 2012.

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