8 of Our Oldest Living Actors Prove Age Is Just a Number

Article Image
Photo Source: “West Side Story” Credit: Niko Tavernise

As the legendary James Earl Jones once said: “I’m an actor, and actors can work until they fall over, as long as you don’t knock over the furniture and remember the lines.”

If you’re under the impression that there is an age limit for being a successful actor, you need to reframe your perspective. Whether you decided to pursue your dreams later in life or are worried about aging out of opportunities, these nine iconic actors show that stardom doesn’t stop in your 20s.

Dick Van Dyke 

Dick Van DykeBorn in 1925, Dick Van Dyke is still performing as he nears the century mark, appearing on a handful of “Days of Our Lives” episodes in 2023 (as well as becoming the oldest contestant on “The Masked Singer” at age 98). 

While the actor’s most notable film role is arguably his portrayal of Bert the chimney sweep in the 1964 classic “Mary Poppins” alongside Julie Andrews, he began his onscreen career over a decade earlier, appearing as a guest actor on various television series. After originating the starring role of Albert F. Peterson in the Broadway production “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1960, Van Dyke reprised his Tony Award–winning part in the film adaptation of the musical in 1963. From 1961 to 1966, he starred in his namesake sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” solidifying his multi-hyphenate status as an actor, singer, dancer, comedian, and household name. 

Van Dyke was already 68 years old when he took on the lead in the medical mystery series “Diagnosis: Murder,” which he starred in from 1993 to 2001. In his 80s, Van Dyke played the recurring role of Cecil in “Night at the Museum” in 2006 and its 2014 sequel, “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.” He delighted audiences with an appearance in 2018’s “Mary Poppins Returns” as Mr. Dawes Jr.—in addition to Bert, he played Mr. Dawes Sr. in the original film. 

Rita Moreno

Rita MorenoHaving already achieved EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) status, Moreno is still plenty busy playing fierce family women. In 2023, at the age of 92, Moreno starred in both Kyle Marvin’s comedy “80 for Brady” and Louis Leterrier’s “Fast X,” the 10th installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. 

Moreno’s most celebrated role, the one that cemented her in the annals of movie musical history, is Anita in Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ 1961 classic “West Side Story.” The part earned her an Academy Award for best supporting actress. In 2021, Moreno returned to the world of the musical for Steven Spielberg’s remake as Valentina—a role created exclusively for her—across from Ariana DeBose in the role of Anita. 

Moreno landed her first film credits in the 1950s, appearing in iconic MGM musicals like “The Toast of New Orleans” (1950) and “Singin’ In the Rain” (1952). In 1972, she received a Grammy Award for Best Children's Album, and in 1975, she won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway play “The Ritz.” She earned back-to-back Emmy Awards for her performances in “The Muppet Show” in 1977 and “The Rockford Files” in 1978.

Carol Burnett

Carol BurnettComedy legend Carol Burnett is still getting laughs in her 90s, appearing in a pivotal supporting role in Abe Sylvia’s Apple TV+ series “Palm Royale” in 2024. 

Burnett originally honed her talents in New York nightclubs, eventually working her way up to a Tony-nominated performance in the 1959 musical “Once Upon a Mattress.” Her public persona grew thanks to regular appearances on “The Garry Moore Show”—a role that won her an Emmy in 1962—and her film debut in Daniel Mann’s 1963 comedy “Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?” alongside Dean Martin. 

Burnett became a true trailblazer in 1967 with the premiere of “The Carol Burnett Show,” the first variety show to be hosted by a woman. The series ran for more than 10 years and received 25 Emmys over that time from 70 nominations. The show made her a household name, and from there Burnett starred in films like Alan Alda’s “The Four Seasons” and John Huston’s “Annie,” returned to Broadway in 1995’s “Moon Over Buffalo” (earning another Tony nomination), and appeared in TV series like “Glee” and “Better Call Saul.”  

Dame Judi Dench

Dame Judi DenchDench’s nearly seven-decade career is one of the most celebrated in history, garnering eight Oscar nominations, 15 BAFTA and SAG nominations, and a Tony. Her first Academy Award nod came at the age of 62, for John Madden’s 1997 romantic drama “Mrs. Brown.” Dench won the following year, for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in Madden’s “Shakespeare in Love.” Her most recent appearance at Hollywood’s biggest night came courtesy of Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” in 2021, for which she was nominated for best supporting actress at 86. 

Dench began her career at the Royal Court Theatre’s Old Vic Company, playing Ophelia in a 1957 production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” She rose to prominence in the theater as a member of both the National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, eventually branching out to international audiences by playing M in the James Bond film “GoldenEye” (1995). Dench played the role seven more times, appearing as recently as 2015 (in a cameo) in Sam Mendes’ “Spectre.”

Jane Fonda

Jane FondaFonda continues to perform after six decades on film and TV, a career that’s racked up two Oscars, two BAFTAs, an Emmy, and numerous award nominations. Most recently, she made a cameo in Dave Meyers’ 2024 Jennifer Lopez–inspired musical film “This Is Me...Now: A Love Story,” following a 2023 that saw Fonda appear in three projects at age 85: “80 for Brady,” “Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken,” and “Book Club: The Next Chapter.” 

From 2015 to 2022, Fonda was Grace to Lily Tomlin’s Frankie in the hit Netflix series “Grace and Frankie,” about two older women who become friends after their husbands reveal a secret relationship with each other. Across seven seasons, the lead duo combined for five Emmy nominations for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series.

The daughter of legendary Hollywood duo Henry Fonda and Frances Ford Seymour, Fonda got into the industry after meeting influential acting teacher Lee Strasberg in 1958. She made her acting debut on Broadway in the 1960 play “There Was a Little Girl,” for which she earned a Tony Award nomination. That same year, she began her film career with Joshua Logan’s romantic comedy “Tall Story.” Fonda worked consistently for the next several decades—buoyed by her massively successful “Jane Fonda’s Workout” series and dedication to political activism—with a résumé that includes  Sydney Pollack’s “They Shoot Horses, Don't They?” (1969), James Bridge’s “The China Syndrome” (1979), and Mark Rydell’s “On Golden Pond” (1981), opposite her father and Katharine Hepburn.

Lily Tomlin

Lily TomlinThanks to the 2015 launch of “Grace and Frankie,” the seven-time Emmy winning Lily Tomlin has enjoyed something of a resurgence in her 80s. In addition to the Netflix series, Tomlin lent her voice to the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” reprised her longtime role of Professor Frizzle in “The Magic School Bus Rides Again,” and starred in “80 for Brady” (2023) and Paul Weitz’s dramedy “Moving On” (2022), both opposite Jane Fonda. 

After attending college in her native Michigan, Tomlin started performing stand-up comedy in New York in the early 1960s while studying acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio. She first appeared on TV in 1965 on the “The Merv Griffin Show,” but broke out to larger audiences thanks to a hilarious four-year stint on the variety series “Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.” Tomlin’s success as a comedian led to landing a dramatic role in Robert Altman’s 1975 musical dramedy “Nashville,” for which she received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination. Tomlin was a celebrated household name throughout the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, winning a Tony in 1986 for Jane Wagner’s one-woman show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” and garnering three SAG nominations for the recurring role of presidential secretary Deborah Fiderer on “The West Wing.”

Rosemary Harris

Rosemary HarrisAt 96 years old, Harris still has projects on her slate into 2025, with a role in James Andrew Walsh’s docu-comedy “Oscar Wilde About America.” The three-time Olivier Award winner has worked well past 80, appearing in several episodes of dark comedy “Search Party” in 2022 and starring alongside Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant in HBO’s “The Undoing” in 2020. In 2018, Harris stepped into the role of Mrs. Higgins in a Broadway revival of “My Fair Lady” at 91 years old. 

Harris was 75 when she took on the character of Aunt May opposite Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” in 2002, reprising the part in “Spider-Man 2” (2004) and “Spider-Man 3” (2007).  

Harris got her start doing “a lot of stock” theater before attending Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for a year. She left in 1952 to make her Broadway debut in Moss Hart's “The Climate of Eden,” returning to her native England a year later to open George Axelrod’s “The Seven Year Itch” on the West End. Harris became one of the most in-demand actors in theater, playing Ophelia across from Peter O’Toole in the National Theatre Company’s opening production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and winning a Tony in 1966 for playing Eleanor of Aquitaine in James Goldman’s “The Lion in Winter.” She has earned eight other Tony nominations and an Oscar nomination for supporting actress (for 1994’s “Tom & Viv”), among other accolades.

Eva Marie Saint

Eva Marie SaintEva Marie Saint, hailing from Hollywood’s Golden Age, is at 99 the oldest living Oscar winner (and she’s turning 100 in July of 2024).  

After working in radio and television throughout the 1940s, Saint originated the role of Thelma in both the TV film and Broadway versions of Horton Foote's “The Trip to Bountiful.” Soon after, she landed her breakout role in Elia Kazan's “On the Waterfront” alongside Marlon Brando, for which she earned an Oscar win for best supporting actress. Her other notable film credits include Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller “North by Northwest,” Otto Preminger’s 1960 historical drama “Exodus,” and George Seaton’s 1964 war film “36 Hours.” 

Saint’s final film performance came at the age of 89 in Akiva Goldsman’s “Winter’s Tale” in 2014, the same year she lent her voice to Season 4 of Netflix’s “The Legend of Korra.”

Credit: Kathy Hutchins/Featureflash Photo Agency/Tinseltown/lev radin/Shutterstock

More From Acting

Recommended

Now Trending