Betty White is In Illustrious Company
Appropriate to of all the hype surrounding her living to see 100, comedy legend Betty White had the last word when she passed away on New Year’s Eve.
She was literally two weeks shy of her birthday this coming January 17th. She very recently did a huge cover story with People Magazine about the impending centennial.
There’s also an upcoming film, Betty White: 100 Years Young—A Birthday Celebration, which will nevertheless play in nearly 900 movie theaters on her centenary.
But like she always had since her early days working for (Get Radio Station) during WWII, Betty bounced on her terms. It was one last razz from a funny, funny woman who has touched the lives of every generation walking on Earth as we step into 2022. Or at least it’s what we told ourselves as we wiped away the tears over the weekend watching old episodes of Match Game and The Golden Girls.
Yet while there will never be another Betty White, she unfortunately is not the first famous person to barely make it to their centennial above the ground. She joins a small but elite group of actors, musicians, artists and royalty who lived to 99.
Coming out of the holiday season means we have all had our annual fill of pop bandleader Mitch Miller, who is most certainly an unfamiliar name to those in the modern era who don’t go digging for vinyl at Goodwill stores. But in the 1950s, Miller was as omnipresent as Dave Grohl inside American households as the host and musical director of his popular NBC variety show Sing Along With Mitch. Behind the scenes, he was an A&R power player for Columbia Records, signing such successful acts as Percy Faith, Ray Conniff, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin. Miller died only four weeks after turning 99 on July 31, 2010.
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Before she became ironcast in infamy after pimp slapping a Beverly Hills police officer in 1989, Hungarian-American actress Zsa Zsa Gabor was known for her standout roles in such acclaimed films as John Hutson’s Moulin Rouge and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil before becoming a TV icon as a professional guest star. Zsa Zsa has made cameos in everything from Mister Ed to F Troop to Gilligan’s Island to The Love Boat to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She passed away on December 16, 2016, after suffering a heart attack while she was in a coma, only 50 days away from her 100th birthday. In July of 2021, her remains flew first-class to the artists’ section of Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest in order to fulfill her wish to return to Hungary.
Lillian Gish was called “the First Lady of American Cinema,” having appeared in numerous silent films during the infancy of the motion picture industry. Many of those movies, however, were directed by controversial filmmaker D.W. Griffith, including a starring role in his KKK-romanticizing propaganda opus Birth of a Nation. And when coupled with her active membership in the Nazi-sympathizing America First movement alongside fascist flyboy Charles Lindbergh and Chicago Tribune publisher Robert R. McCormick, it should be no surprise there have been retroactive repercussions following her death on February 27, 1993, eight months away shy of becoming a centenarian. In 2019 the Black Student Union at Ohio’s Bowling Green University successfully had the school’s Gish Theatre renamed on account of her unsavory associations with Nazis and White Supremacists.
When it comes to the art of caricature, there will never be a more distinctive style than that of the craft’s Supreme Master, Albert Hirschfeld. His work has appeared in numerous publications, namely The New York Times, Life, Look, The New Yorker, TV Guide, Seventeen and Playbill. He’s made poster art for the films of Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers, and created classic album art for Aerosmith, Donald Byrd and Joe Pass not to mention a bunch of Broadway soundtracks. Hirschfeld kept busy right up until the very end, From The Wizard of Oz to the cast of The Sopranos, Al drew ’em all. And while he passed away six months shy of his 100th birthday, Broadway honored Hirschfeld posthumously on June 21, 2003 when it renamed Martin Beck Theatre after him. The Al Hirschfeld Theatre is still open for business, COVID permitting.
He was the original Andy Richter, pulling double duty as both announcer and sidekick to Jack Paar on the original Tonight Show. But those of us younger than 70 best know legendary broadcaster Hugh Downs as the stalwart co-anchor alongside Barbara Walters on ABC’s longtime TV news magazine series 20/20 from the program’s second episode in 1978 until his retirement in 1999.
That same year, he was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records (now Guinness World Records) as holding the record for the greatest number of hours on network commercial television (15,188 hours), though he lost the record for most hours on all forms of television to Regis Philbin in 2004.
Born on Valentine’s Day in 1921, Downs was eight months away from his 100th birthday when he succumbed to heart failure at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona on July 1, 2020.
The man clearly had no clue how to read a room, given his proclivity for cultural insensitivity and bald faced sexism. The Duke of Edinburgh descended back into his tomb for the last time just two months before hitting the century mark, sparing us the celebration of the centennial of this otherwise unsavory fellow. Queen Elizabeth is a Saint for dealing with this guy for 75 years.
Candido Camero Guerra
The “Thousand Finger Man,” as he called himself on his 1969 Solid State LP, Cuban percussionist Candido Camero Guerra was a pioneer in the Latin Jazz movement by expounding the ability to play three or more percussive instruments in a single performance. As a leader, he has recorded for such iconic labels as ABC Records, Blue Note and SalSoul, while as a sideman he has cut sessions with heavyweights like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins and Wes Montgomery to name a few. The industry recognized his many accomplishments by awarding him a National Endowment For the Arts Jazz Masters award in 2008 and Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2009.