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…


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1. Eddie Albert

Image: AP

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

Image: AP

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

Image: AP

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

Image: AP

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

Image: AP

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.

 
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41 Comments

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stunningkennyg 5 months ago
You can now add Forrest Compton [Gomer Pyle's Col. Gray] who passed this weekend @ 94.
redeye 6 months ago
Did you catch the All In The Family live broadcast. Norman Lear is 97 and sharp as a tack!
Known for
All in the Family
The Jeffersons
Sanford and Son
Good Times
Maude
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
One Day at a Time
vikkr 6 months ago
Interesting the only actor you listed what they died from was Buddy Ebsen all the others you only list their age upon death just curious to why you singled him out?
AOK 6 months ago
Although he didn’t do much TV, don’t forget Kirk Douglas was 103.
LindaAdams900 6 months ago
Also actor David Hedson from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He passed away last July at 92.
Ilovelalaw LindaAdams900 4 months ago
His name was David Hedison, with an i and yeah, I can't believe that they left him off the list. "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" airs on MeTV Saturday nights at 2am! You'd think that they'd remember him. I'm still so sad that he died. I really miss him. I've had a king sized crush on that man for, at least, the last forty years. He was so good looking.
PreciousPup 6 months ago
Boy, this article makes me feel old (I am) because "You may know Harry Morgan as Bill Gannon on the 1960s Dragnet or as Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H." Nope, I first remember him as Pete Porter on December Bride and then on Pete and Gladys with Cara Williams.

Mike Connors as Mannix, sure, but I first saw him as undercover police agent Nick Stone on Tightrope.

Jim Backus didn't make it to his eighties and most people remember him from Gilligan's Island and as the voice of Mr. Magoo. Me, I first remember him as Judge Bradley Stevens on I Married Joan.

There's more but I'm old and need a nap.
Pacificsun PreciousPup 6 months ago
Great comment. I'd forgotten about some of those shows. That once upon a time were referenced among the actors' credits. I didn't see them all in Prime Time however.
RedSamRackham 6 months ago
* When Buddy Ebsen did a Winston commercial on a Beverly Hillbillies episode he was merely puffing on the cigarette but not inhaling the smoke. Being a non-smoker possibly contributed to his long life. ☺
15inchBlackandWhite 6 months ago
Lots of long-livers on Green Acres. Frank Cady lived to 96. Sid Melton to 94. Mary Grace Canfield to 89 and Hank Patterson to 86. Must be all that fresh air.
BrittReid 6 months ago
Delia Street #5. Wrong. Bob Newhart is 90 plus.
RedSamRackham BrittReid 6 months ago
And both George Burns and Bob Hope made it to 100 ☺
Bob Newhart NOT the last survivor of his '70's show! Peter Bonerz is still with us!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 6 months ago
He was also a Director!
Peter Bonerz?? Hey! I like that name!!
Coraline 6 months ago
Yes, Billingsley was in Leave It To Beaver but how does that make this a Leave It To Beaver story? One of nine is pushing it!
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Pacificsun Coraline 6 months ago
Also this is NOT a site for politics. People come here to be free of all that stuff.
Pacificsun Coraline 6 months ago
OMG. That's the auto header but they could've rewritten the script to say "there's a slight connection between a show that you once expressed interest in, referenced in a current Post featured on the MeTV site under the title of 9 classic TV stars living into their nineties." I'll send that memo on to the MeTV Staff.
harlow1313 SeenEnough 6 months ago
SeenEnough - Additionally, I would encourage you to cease using words like "libtards."
moax429 RedSamRackham 6 months ago
"Back to the Beach" was released *theatrically.* It *wasn't* made for TV.
harlow1313 6 months ago
As Maude indicates in my favorite motion picture, "Harold and Maude," her firm belief is that eighty is the right age to die.

I concur. With any luck, I will hit eighty, flicker a few times, then go out like a light bulb.
MaryMitch harlow1313 6 months ago
You might feel differently when you hit 79.
harlow1313 MaryMitch 6 months ago
As Chief Crazy Horse reportedly said (or didn't say, depending on your sources), "Today is a good day to die."
cperrynaples 6 months ago
Can't believe you didn't include Orson Bean, who was 91 when he died earlier this year!
Pacificsun 6 months ago
We used to do a Disqus Channel called the Fan Club Cafe. One of our writers (John) did a Post on 100 still living actors in their 80 years or older! So am not surprised to read the one above.

And I just saw an interview with Betty White (98) appearing in a check-stand style magazine, about the secrets to long-life. It's very cute.
cperrynaples Pacificsun 6 months ago
Yes, and let's not forget Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner and Norman Lloyd, who produced and acted on Alfred Hitchcock Presents!
Utzaake cperrynaples 6 months ago
At age 105, Norman Lloyd is a Superhero!
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