The Oldest Famous Entertainers in History

The Oldest Famous Entertainers in History

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.

Source: Garry Hogg / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Liane Haid
> Age at time of death: 105
> Lifespan: 1895-2000
> Occupation: Austrian actress

Haid was a prima ballerina, dancer, singer, stage actress, but she gained fame as one of Austria’s first motion-picture stars. She made about 100 movies – both silents and talkies. Haid turned down offers from Hollywood and escaped from Nazi Germany to Switzerland in 1942. She lived with her family near Bern, where she died.

Source: Erich Auerbach / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Madeleine Milhaud
> Age at time of death: 105
> Lifespan: 1902-2008
> Occupation: French actress and librettist; wife of composer Darius Milhaud

Madeleine Milhaud was a French actress who made three movies in the 1920 and 1930s. She was married to composer Darius Milhaud – who was also her cousin. She and her husband fled France during World War II and settled in California, but returned to Europe in 1946, where Madeleine died in Paris, 34 years after her husband.

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Connie Sawyer
> Age at time of death: 105
> Lifespan: 1912-2018
> Occupation: American actress

American actress Connie Sawyer logged 151 acting credits over a career that spanned 61 years. She appeared in many television series such as “The Donna Reed Show,” “The Fugitive,” “Bonanza,” “All in the Family,” “Seinfeld,” and “2 Broke Girls.” Among her big-screen credits are “Dumb and Dumber,” “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Pineapple Express.”

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Milton Quon
> Age at time of death: 105
> Lifespan: 1913-2019
> Occupation: American animator, artist, actor

A fixture around motion-picture studios for decades, Milton Quon ran Disney’s publicity/promotions department following WWII. In 1951, he joined the advertising agency BBD&O as the first Chinese-American art director at a national advertising agency. Quon also appeared in five films, including the blockbuster “Speed.”

Source: Galio / Wikimedia Commons

Horacio Coppola
> Age at time of death: 105
> Lifespan: 1906-2012
> Occupation: Argentine photographer and filmmaker

Horacio Coppola was an Argentine photographer and filmmaker. He is famous for his mesmerizing black-and-white photos of Buenos Aires, portraits of artists such as Marc Chagall and Joan Miró, and for still-life work. Coppola appeared in two documentaries and a film short in the 1930s.

Source: Animalparty / Wikimedia Commons

Mary Ellis
> Age at time of death: 105
> Lifespan: 1897-2003
> Occupation: American-born British stage actress

Mary Ellis is one of the few people to have lived in three centuries. She was born before the Spanish-American War and passed away two years after the terrorist attacks on America in 2001. She distinguished herself on stage in the United States and in England, and worked in films and television, including the TV mini series “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes” in 1994.

Source: Martin H. / Wikimedia Commons

Rosa Albach-Retty
> Age at time of death: 105
> Lifespan: 1874-1980
> Occupation: Austrian film and stage actress

Rosa Albach-Retty was born in Hanau, Hesse, Germany, and acted in films in the 1930s. She died in Baden, Lower Austria, Austria. Albach-Retty was the grandmother of noted Austrian actress Romy Schneider.

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Lupita Tovar
> Age at time of death: 106
> Lifespan: 1910-2016
> Occupation: Mexican-American actress

Mexican-born Lupita Tovar acted in the first Mexican talkie, “Santa,” in 1932. She had a starring role in the Spanish-language version of “Dracula.” Tovar appeared in American films in the 1930s and 1940s, but her movie career was over by the mid-1940s. She and her daughter, actress Susan Kohner, each starred in films chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2015: Tovar in “Drácula” (1931) and Kohner in “Imitation of Life” (1959).

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Manoel de Oliveira
> Age at time of death: 106
> Lifespan: 1908-2015
> Occupation: Portuguese film director

Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira has 65 directing credits, spanning film history from silent films to the digital age, and continued making films almost to the end of his very long life. De Oliveira is known for the films “Os Canibais” (1988), “I’m Going Home” (2001), and “Gebo and the Shadow” (2012).

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Norman Lloyd
> Age at time of death: 106
> Lifespan: 1914-2021
> Occupation: American actor, director, producer, writer

Norman Lloyd’s entertainment career stretched over 76 years, beginning in 1939. He was a member of the storied Mercury Theatre company of Orson Welles and John Houseman. Lloyd appeared in several Alfred Hitchcock movies, including “Saboteur” (1942) and “Spellbound” (1945), and Hitchcock hired him as an associate producer and a director on TV’s “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” series in the 1950s.

Source: Fæ / Wikimedia Commons

Lincoln Maazel
> Age at time of death: 106
> Lifespan: 1903-2009
> Occupation: American actor and singer; father of conductor Lorin Maazel

Lincoln Maazel appeared in two movies, “Martin” (1976) and “The Amusement Park” (1975), and also was in the television series “NET Playhouse” in the 1960s. Maazel was a much-in-demand actor on Pittsburgh stages in the 1960s, appearing in three plays running simultaneously at one point.

Source: Pimbrils / Wikimedia Commons

Doris Eaton Travis
> Age at time of death: 106
> Lifespan: 1904-2010
> Occupation: American actress and dance instructor; last surviving Ziegfeld Girl

Doris Eaton Travis started appearing on stage with her brothers Charles and Joseph and her sisters Mary and Pearl when she was 5 years old. At the time of her death in 2010, she was the last surviving dancer from the Ziegfeld Follies. Decades after performing at the New Amsterdam Theatre, Travis danced there again in 1998 when she appeared with four other former Ziegfeld Girls in a fundraiser for the renovated theater.

Source: w:en:User:Dmcdevit / Wikimedia Commons

Tonio Selwart
> Age at time of death: 106
> Lifespan: 1896-2002
> Occupation: German actor and stage performer

German-born film and stage actor of Austrian parentage is one of three people on the list who lived in three centuries. Selwart served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in WWI before emigrating to the U.S. in 1930. He played mostly Nazi officials and German Army officers in motion pictures like “The Hitler Gang,” “Anzio,” and “The North Star”.

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George Abbott
> Age at time of death: 107
> Lifespan: 1887-1995
> Occupation: American stage actor, director, playwright, screenwriter, producer

George Abbott is one of the most celebrated American stage actors, directors, playwrights, screenwriters, and producers of all time. After appearing on the stage from 1912 to 1926, he focused on writing and directing. Abbott won 11 Tony Awards, including for “The Pajama Game,” “Damn Yankees,” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” In 1960, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the musical “Fiorello!” in collaboration with Jerome Weidman, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick.

Source: Anne-Sophie Ofrim / Wikimedia Commons

Gerda Ring
> Age at time of death: 107
> Lifespan: 1891-1999
> Occupation: Norwegian stage actress and producer

Gerda Ring was a pioneer and a profile in courage. Ring, the first Norwegian woman to get a driver’s license, debuted on the stage in 1911 in a play written by her mother. After the Germans took over Norway in WWII, she and other actors refused to work on a radio play because the station was controlled by the Nazis. She fled Norway and established a free Norwegian theater group in Sweden. Ring directed plays to an advanced age.

Source: Sir Beluga / Wikimedia Commons

Rosa Bouglione
> Age at time of death: 107
> Lifespan: 1910-2018
> Occupation: French circus performer

Rosa Bouglione was born into a circus family, in the back of a horse-drawn caravan, and became the toast of French society. Her father was an animal trainer and she performed with animals throughout her career. She and her husband, Joseph, got married in a lion’s cage, an event depicted on postcards and magazine covers in France.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Carmen Martí­nez Sierra
> Age at time of death: 108
> Lifespan: 1904-2012
> Occupation: Spanish actress

Spanish actress Carmen Martí­­nez Sierra had 125 acting credits over a 42-year career. Martinez-Sierra began her entertainment career in 1920 as an opera singer. She didn’t switch to films until 1957 and then moved into television, appearing mostly in series.

Source: Jan Arkesteijn / Wikimedia Commons

*22 januari 1964

Johannes Heesters
> Age at time of death: 108
> Lifespan: 1903-2011
> Occupation: Dutch actor, vocalist, performer

Debonair Dutch actor Johannes Heesters appeared in top hat and tails in many of his performances. His best-known role is as Count Danilo in the operetta “The Merry Widow,” which he played 1,600 times. He was a favorite actor of Adolf Hitler and performed extensively in the Third Reich beginning in the 1930s. Though he was not involved in creating Nazi propaganda, many Dutch never forgave him for performing in Nazi Germany. At the time his scene for the German fantasy comedy “1½ Knights – In Search of the Ravishing Princess Herzelinde” was shot in June 2008, Heesters was 104 1/2 years old

Source: Kevin Winter / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Ruthie Tompson
> Age at time of death: 111
> Lifespan: 1910-2021
> Occupation: American animator

If you’ve seen any animated Disney film, you’ve seen the work of Ruthie Tompson. She began her career working on the short “Don Donald” in 1937, one of the earliest cartoons to feature Donald Duck. Later that year, she was an ink and paint artist for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Tompson would go on to work on such classics as “Fantasia,” “Dumbo,” “Bambi,” and “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.” After starting her career as a painter in Disney’s ink and paint section, she played important roles in final check, scene planning and the camera department. Tompson was named a Disney Legend in 2000.

Source: Deanlaw / Wikimedia Commons

Frederica Sagor Maas
> Age at time of death: 111
> Lifespan: 1900-2012
> Occupation: American screenwriter, playwright, essayist

The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, Frederica Sagor Maas jettisoned a journalism career for screenwriting during the silent era of motion pictures. She found success writing Clara Bow’s hit “The Plastic Age” (1925). That got her a contract with MGM but she left that movie studio because she claimed others got credit for her work. Maas joined another studio and wrote and received credit for so-called flapper comedies. She and her husband Ernest wrote screenplays, and one was turned into a musical comedy starring Betty Grable, “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim.”

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