Every year about this time, news media of every kind put together end-of-the-year roundups. It’s a good way to reflect, to perhaps gain insight and to get a glimpse at how future generations will view anno Domini 2018.
Plus, it’s a good way to fill up space during a slow news period when a lot of your staff goes on vacation.
One of the traditional newsroom year-end rituals is to do a roll call of all the famous people who died over the past year. Several years ago, when I was heading up an entertainment section, I got the idea, why do the same somber list as everyone else? So instead I started a new tradition of giving a shout-out to famous people you may be pleased, or at least surprised, to know are still around to join us in the new year.
The only firm rule to my list is that a celebrity has to be at least 85 years old. And I try not to have too many people who are still consistently in the limelight, unless their age may be surprising, like say, Betty White, 96; Clint Eastwood, 88; or William Shatner, 87.
The reigning champs for longevity are Olivia De Havilland, known best for being Scarlett O’Hara’s friend and unwitting rival Melanie Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind,” who is 102; and Kirk Douglas, who was and always will be able to truthfully say, “I am Spartacus,” even at 102.
There’s always a risk that the list could be inaccurate by the time it gets released. In fact, the day I started selecting names for this year’s list, it was announced that one of this year’s shoo-ins, Marvel Comics maestro Stan Lee, had died at 95.
So, with that disclaimer, here are some of the celebrities that will ring in 2019.
The name Ann Taylor Cook may not ring any bells, but her face is etched in almost all our memories. She was the original Gerber baby. A family friend drew the charcoal sketch when Cook was 4 months old and submitted it into a contest a year later. Today, Cook is a healthy 91. Maybe it’s something she ate.
Another image most of us can picture is the famous photo of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald as he was handcuffed to a Texas lawman wearing a light-colored suit and a Stetson. That lawman’s name is Jim Leavelle. He’s 98 today, and you bet he still has that hat.
In the world of sports, Marv Levy of the Buffalo Bills and Bud Grant of the Minnesota Vikings share a dubious distinction in NFL history. They both coached their teams to four Super Bowls and lost them all. But in the game of life, they’ve both beat the spread – Levy is 93, Grant is 91.
Between Grant’s run in the ’70s and Levy’s run in the ’90s, The San Francisco 49ers were the darlings of the football world, running off four championships. Of course, the city had crooner Tony Bennett’s heart long before that. He’s been singing about it since 1961, and still is at the age of 92.
Alfred Hitchcock is remembered for two things: an incredible catalog of movies and an obsession with “cool blonde” actresses. Three of those actresses who starred in Hitchcock films during the director’s most celebrated creative streak (1954-1964) met various on-screen fates, as well as some reputed off-screen drama working with the Master of Suspense: Eva Marie Saint of “North by Northwest,” 94; Kim Novak, from “Vertigo,” 85; and Tippi Hedren, who had two go-arounds in “The Birds” and “Marnie,” 88.
None of the Mercury Seven, America’s first astronauts, are still with us. Neither is Neil Armstrong, who will forever hold the distinction of being the first human to set foot on a celestial body other than Earth. But before we started reaching to the heavens, pilot Chuck Yeager pushed the limits of manned flight when he broke the sound barrier in 1947. He’s still going strong at 95.
Speaking of going strong, urologists across America credit Bob Dole with saving untold lives when, after an unsuccessful bid for the presidency, he retired from politics and became the spokesman for Viagra. Millions of men got checkups, including prostate exams, as a condition of getting a prescription for the little blue pill. Had Dole, now 95, become president, he would have the record for longevity among former presidents.
That distinction, instead, belongs to George H.W. Bush, who died November 30 at the age of 94 years, 171 days. He may not hold the record for long, though. Jimmy Carter, who was born 101 days after Bush, could surpass him on March 12.
They say laughter is the best medicine. Could be – TV producer Norman Lear, whose sitcoms dominated the 1970s, is 96. One-time Vegas mainstay comedian Shecky Green is 92. Jerry Stiller, whose been funny in several TV shows, most notably “Seinfeld” and “The King of Queens,” and is the father of another funny guy, Ben Stiller, is 91.
TV comedy pioneer Sid Caesar lived to be 91, while two of his writers, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, are still with us at 96 and 92, respectively. Caesar also had a kid working for him by the name of Woody Allen, but at 82 he won’t qualify until 2021.
May we all be here to welcome him to the list.