9 classic television stars who lived to their nineties
Eddie Albert, Doris Day and Harry Morgan were all nonagenarians when they died.
Image: AP, Everett Collection
People often wonder, what’s the secret to a long life? Is it what you eat? Your genes? Or just plain luck?
Whatever it is, these TV stars knew it. They all lived to at least 90 years old. Many of them a lot longer!
Read on to see if you can spot any similarities in their stories. Maybe the secret to longevity is there somewhere…
1. Eddie Albert
Born in April of 1906, Eddie Albert Heimberger grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He planned to go into business but the stock market crash of 1929 left him unable to find a steady job. He worked where he could – selling insurance, singing in clubs and even joining the circus. In 1933, he moved to New York, dropped his cumbersome last name and soon found himself on Broadway. His career took off from there and he starred in numerous films alongside famous names like Ronald Reagan and Lucille Ball. One of his most beloved roles came in 1965 when he took the part of Oliver Wendell Douglas on Green Acres. His portrayal of Douglas as a New York lawyer who decides to be a farmer was a perfect foil to co-star Eva Gabor’s turn as his exasperated, socialite wife. After Green Acres, Albert continued to star in television and movies well into the 1990s. He died in May of 2005, a month after his 99th birthday.
2. Doris Day
Doris Day began her film career with Romance on the High Seas, released in 1948. Her talent was immediately apparent and for the next twenty years she went on to star in movies of many different genres. Her most famous films include Calamity Jane, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Pillow Talk. Of course, her talent onscreen was only outdone by her amazing singing voice. Songs like Que Sera, Sera, released in 1956, are still enjoyed to this day. In 1968, Day was shocked to find out her recently deceased husband had spent her earnings and accumulated massive amounts of debt. He had also signed a television deal without her knowledge. She agreed to move forward with The Doris Day Show after CBS gave her full creative control. Day was a lifelong animal welfare activist and founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation. She died in 2019 at the age of 97.
3. Buddy Ebsen
Buddy Ebsen began his Hollywood career as a dancer in the 1930s. He danced with Shirley Temple in the film Captain January and was even used as an animation reference for early Mickey Mouse cartoons. Ebsen was set to play the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz but had to leave the production because he was allergic to the aluminum dust used in the silver Tin Man makeup. In 1962, CBS cast Ebsen as Jed Clampett in the beloved fish-out-of-water sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. The series was a hit and ran for nine seasons. After Hillbillies ended, Ebsen starred as the titular detective in another CBS show, Barnaby Jones. The series began in 1973 and ran for 178 episodes through 1980. Ebsen passed away of respiratory failure in 2003. He was 95 years old.
4. Gene Barry
Born Eugene Klass in 1919, Gene Barry used his professional name to honor John Barrymore. Barry started on Broadway in the 1940s and eventually transitioned to film. He starred in the first movie adaptation of The War of the Worlds in 1953. Five years later, Barry got the title role in the TV western Bat Masterson. He played a confident, well-dressed ladies’ man – the same kind of role he played later in Burke’s Law and The Name of the Game. Bat Masterson was a hero of the Old West and Amos Burke in Burke’s Law was a millionaire homicide detective. In The Name of the Game, Barry played a suave magazine publisher. These three shows all lasted three seasons apiece. In 1990, Barry returned as Bat Masterson in two episodes of Guns of Paradise. He also made a cameo in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 War of the Worlds. Gene Barry passed away at the age of 90 in 2009.
5. Barbara Hale
Image: Everett Collection
Barbara Hale was born in Dekalb, Illinois, in 1922. After high school, she moved to Chicago to study art. She started modeling to pay for college but soon landed a contract with RKO Radio Pictures and moved to Los Angeles. She acted in many films throughout the 1940s, including Higher and Higher alongside Frank Sinatra. In 1957, Hale landed her most famous role: Delia Street in Perry Mason. Delia was the trusted confidant of Raymond Burr’s eponymous defense lawyer. Hale won an Emmy for her portrayal in 1959. Although the original series ended in 1966, thirty (yes, three zero) Perry Mason television movies were made between 1985-1995. Hale appeared in all of them, continuing after Burr’s death in 1993. Hale’s son, William Katt, starred in the 1980s TV show The Greatest American Hero, and Hale guest-starred as his mom in one episode. Barbara Hale passed away at 94 years old in January, 2017.
6. Harry Morgan
You may know Harry Morgan as Bill Gannon on the 1960s Dragnet or as Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H. You may also know him from one of the more than one hundred films he appeared in. Chances are, it’s all of the above. Morgan’s debut film was To the Shores of Tripoli in 1942. He continued to act in movies through the 1960s and beyond. In 1967, he landed his most recognized (well, maybe second-most recognized) role of Bill Gannon on the revival of Dragnet. In 1974, Morgan appeared on M*A*S*H but not as Colonel Potter. He played Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele in the season three episode “The General Flipped at Dawn.” Of course, Morgan joined the cast as a regular the very next season. His portrayal of Sherman T. Potter is one of the most beloved performances in television history. Morgan was 96 when he died in 2011.
7. Barbara Billingsley
Barbara Billingsley is best known as June Cleaver on the classic family sitcom Leave it to Beaver. June was the poised mother of the Cleaver household, cooking and doing chores in her trademark pearl necklace. Billingsley brought experience with her own two sons to the character. She objected to certain things in the script that she wouldn’t do herself as a mother. If she needed to scold one of her sons on the show, she wanted there to be a realistic motivation to do so. After Beaver, Billingsley made appearances on many different TV shows through the 1990s. She was also the “jive-talking” older woman in Airplane! She passed away at 94 years old in 2010.
8. Mike Connors
Born Krekor Ohanian Jr. in Fresno, California, Mike Connors was a skilled basketball player growing up. He went to UCLA on a basketball scholarship but decided to try acting after college. He started off in small roles in 1950s movies like Island in the Sky and The Ten Commandments. His most famous role came in 1967. Connors starred as private detective Joe Mannix in the CBS show called, of course, Mannix. The character was Armenian-American just like Connors and spoke Armenian in some episodes. In the first season, detective Joe Mannix worked at a high-tech agency called Intertect that relied on computers to help solve cases. From season two on, Mannix struck out on his own and the show became a more traditional detective series. Mannix ran for eight successful seasons until it was canceled in 1975. Connors continued to act in movies and TV all the way into the 2000s. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 91.
9. Steven Hill
Image: Everett Collection
Steven Hill was born in Seattle, Washington in 1922. After serving in the United States Naval Reserve, he moved to New York City to pursue acting. In 1946, he appeared on Broadway in A Flag is Born alongside Marlon Brando. A year later, he and Brando were some of the first people accepted into the Actors Studio. In 1966, Hill was cast as the lead in Mission: Impossible. As an Orthodox Jew, Hill could not work after sundown on Fridays. Producers on the show were aware before the show started but didn’t think it would be an issue. However, production on many episodes ran long on Fridays. Hill’s part was reduced so he could film everything in time. He would assign the mission but not go with the rest of the team. After season one wrapped, Hill was let go and replaced by Peter Graves. After a hiatus from acting, Hill was cast as Adam Schiff in Law & Order. He played the New York District Attorney for ten seasons from 1990-2000. He was one of the longest serving cast members on the show. Steven Hill lived to be 94 years old and passed away in August of 2016.