The mortality of celebrities is one of the most interesting phenomena of stargazing to me. Whether they die too young or live to be 100, it seems like they always go abruptly, and in methods that are usually just as uncommon as their fame.
There are those who died extremely young—like Sid Vicious (21), Buddy Holly (22) and River Phoenix (23), for example. It’s always crushing to think about what they might have accomplished had they lived, and sad to think they’ll be known for so little. Two of those deaths could have likely been avoided if the youthful attitude of “immortality” hadn’t been in play.
Then there’s the “27 Club” of rock stars who died at 27 years of age. Blues legend Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, D. Boon (Minutemen), Pete Ham (Badfinger), Chris Bell (Big Star) and just this year, Amy Winehouse, are all part of that elite group.
I don’t understand why that age is so pivotal in a rock star’s life, but apparently your 27th birthday is the exact moment when drugs, depression and accidents are most likely to cut your time short—just in your prime.
Those celebrities who lived to be 100 are fewer, but certainly more fortunate. George Burns, Bob Hope, Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Rose Kennedy and Strom Thurmond all left their mark for a century or more before taking a perpetual dirt nap.
What always makes me grin is someone taken back in amazement when they learn that a star they thought was long gone is still kicking. Personally, I was amazed to see Betty White get tackled by football players at age 89 in a Snicker’s commercial. But I was also amazed to see her on Golden Girls in the ’80s, for that matter. I thought she’d long passed into oblivion in the ’70s when all she did were game show appearances—post “Mary Tyler Moore”, of course.
So with that in mind, I’ve decided to reveal some of the most astounding “still living” celebrity cases I could dig up (no pun). Keep in mind I write these columns a week out, so some may have met their maker by press time.
Dick Van Dyke—still kicking at 85, no shit. And he looks fantastic. In fact, I just recently saw him on CBS Sunday Morning doing a rap song with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith.
The “real” James Bond—Sean Connery—age 80. You really can’t kill Mr. Bond, now can you? That in mind, we all know William Shatner is still at the top of his game—also at 80, believe it or not. Then there’s what I call the “73 Club” with Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicolson, Jane Fonda, Anthony Hopkins and Dustin Hoffman. Al Pacino (70) is just slightly older than Harrison Ford (68), but three years older than Robert DeNiro (67).
These are celebrities we still see very regularly on the silver screen. Let’s throw in a few you never hear from any more—and probably thought had moved on to that great gig in the sky.
The one I personally was taken back by the most is Phyllis Diller—still alive at 94. Mickey Rooney, who I think starred in silent films for Pete’s sake, is still around at age 91. And remember Abe Vigoda who played the lovable character Fish on Barney Miller? He’s still alive at 90. Hell, I thought he was 70 back in the ’70s.
Speaking of people we last heard from in the ’70s, legendary director, actor and proud papa to aging actor/director Rob, Carl Reiner, is now 89. In fact, Norman Lear, who created TV’s All in the Family co-starring Rob Reiner as “Meathead” is also 89. So is Sid Caesar. Their buddy Mel Brooks of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein fame is 85. So are Andy Griffith, Hugh Hefner and Chuck Berry.
There are some stars you don’t think are as old as they really are. Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes is 93. So is evangelist Billy Graham. Kirk Douglas—Michael Douglas’s father—is 94. And so is Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Then there are those who you thought were older than they really are—just because it seems they’ve been around forever. Like Dick Clark, who’s just 81. Larry Hagman, who starred in I Dream of Jeannie in the ’60s and the ’80’s TV drama Dallas, is just 80 years old. And former President Jimmy Carter isn’t a day over 87.
I have no idea how long I’ll live or how famous I’ll become but like everyone, I hope to live a long, healthy life before my star stops shining.
Chuck Crowder is a local writer and general man about town. His opinions are just that. Everything expressed is loosely based on fact, and crap he hears people talking about. Take what you just read with a grain of salt, but pepper it in your thoughts.