George Burns was an indefatigable entertainer whose staying power became the last, most endearing gag in a graceful, laugh-filled career. He was 100 years and 49 days old when he died in 1996.
As much as he became an institution in his final decades, there are few who recall that Burns had come up as a struggling performer on the vaudeville circuit. He began the century singing for pennies on New York street corners. He nearly ended the century wisecracking on compact disc and playing, by satellite, to audiences worldwide.
Burns often said none of his success would have been possible without Gracie Allen — his wife of 38 years — even though his career took on even greater dimensions after her death in 1964.
With his raspish voice, thick glasses and ever-present cigar, he joked about his age and his singing — often interspersing the gags among lines of some obscure song such as "If You Talk in Your Sleep, Don't Mention My Name."
He didn't work solely for the money. By the time of Allen's death, Burns was a wealthy man, and by the mid-1980s, he had enough money to have donated $1 million to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and $1 million to the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills. Any time a waiter, a security guard or a bellboy would show him a special courtesy or do him a favor, he would turn to his longtime manager, Fein, and say, "Irving, take care of them," and walk away as Fein peeled bills off a thick roll of cash.
Points of interest
|1975||Best Supporting Actor||The Sunshine Boys||Win|