On the ‘grand’ stage: 10 entertainers still around to celebrate Grandparent’s Day

Betty White tops Thomas Sellers Jr.’s list of older celebrities who are still thriving. Art by Thomas Sellers Jr.


National Grandparent’s Day is always the first Sunday after Labor Day.

What a wonderful way to pay tribute to those who embrace the responsibilities of being there for their children’s children. In today’s society a lot of grandparents are legal guardians.

Some sage citizens even take on the challenge of mentoring youth and serving as an example for the millennials.

I truly value the wisdom of those who have traveled down the roads I’m currently trying to navigate. The greatest teacher in life is experience. So when a person in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s tries to impart knowledge to you, soak it in heart, mind, body and soul.

Outside of our older family members, we have access to older people through television and the internet.

Not all old people are sweet, smart, caring and looking to advise the younger generations. So I want to shine a spotlight on those who have made a positive impact on generations to come.

But I’m doing this list with a couple of twists. Media like journalism, sports, art and publishing have produced several icons that we view as intelligent role models.

We can save them for another day. Today’s list will pinpoint those actors and entertainers who are older than 80 years old and surprise me that they are still alive. I pray this column is not a big jinx to the 10 below. As of publishing on Sept. 1, they were still eligible for this countdown. Honestly, I want to know their secrets for success and a long life.

10. Carol Channing, age: 97

Carol Elaine Channing is an American actress, singer, dancer and comedian. She’s notable for starring in Broadway and film musicals. She was introduced to me through “Family Guy” doing a voice-over beating Mike Tyson in a celebrity boxing match. That appearance was almost 10 years ago. Now I believe she could beat the former heavyweight champion of the world … putting on her Sunday clothes.

9. Jerry Lee Lewis, age 82

Great Balls of Fire, this man will be turning 83 on Sept. 29. The Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis is an American singer-songwriter, musician and pianist. He was known as Rock & Rolls’ wild and crazy man. Just watch his biopic … which came out in 1989! That was almost 30 years ago (also filmed in Memphis). The movie depicts how he was the rebel, bad boy of the industry. He was like the Justin Bieber of the 1950s. His relationships made news and his behavior on the stage grabbed headlines. A lot of people are shocked he lived to see 40, let alone 80.

8. Jackie Mason, age 87

Comedy legend Jackie Mason had a unique look, style and delivery on stage. He was ranked as one of the top 100 comedians by Comedy Central at the turn of the millennium. He earned that ranking through his work in film and television. I guess every time somebody laughs at one of his jokes via TV or Youtube, Mr. Mason is granted another day on this earth.

7. Ed Asner, age 88

The legendary actor brought the iconic Lou Grant to life in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” But the biggest impact the Emmy-award winning Ed Asner had on my life was as the voice of Ed Wuncler in the cartoon series “The Boondocks.” I was shocked an accomplished actor in the twilight of his life would take on such a project. Asner was awesome in the role, pumping more life into “The Boondocks.”

6. Dick Van Dyke, age 92

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” was prime viewing on television from 1961 to 1966. Then the sitcom’s namesake wanted to prove he still had it in the 1990s with “Diagnosis Murder.” Dick Van Dyke is television royalty for decades of great work. I was pleasantly surprised when he appeared on my favorite sitcom, “Scrubs,” in the 2000s. People are blessed to live seven decades. Van Dyke has working credits in that many.

5. Sidney Poitier, age 91

Sir Sidney Poitier proves how respected this actor is. He became a topic for trivia, winning the 1964 Academy Award for Best Actor for “Lilies of the Field.” Poitier has used his celebrity and fame to be an activist and fight for causes he believes in. I think that fire has kept him alive and going strong. He and fellow actor Harry Belafonte are 91 years old. I guess being a trailblazer, innovator and humanitarian gives you life. Both men will take on a cause even today.

4. Angela Lansbury, age 92

“Murder, She Wrote”? No, “How to Live” is what Angela Brigid Lansbury is writing. She was super old when “Murder She Wrote” was on the air from 1984 to 1996. But this amazing actress with the signature voice is still active and vocal. She even got in trouble earlier this year for her comments about the #MeToo movement. She told upcoming actresses to check themselves and be accountable. Instead of trying to beat her down, maybe they should listen to a woman who has earned her way in the theater, television and film.

3. Mel Brooks, age 92

I love a good parody. “Blazing Saddles,” “Space balls,” “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Young Frankenstein” all came from the genius of Mel Brooks. His list of accomplishments are as a filmmaker, actor, comedian and composer. The man wore many faces and brought several characters to life. I guess that’s why he is granted such a long life. He might be changing into another custom as you read this.

2. Kirk Douglas, age 101

Kirk Douglas is so old, he was in school learning about “The Great War.” He was probably the one to call the second big conflict involving multiple countries “World War II.” He did serve from 1941 to 1944.

He attended the first NFL vs. AFL championship game in 1967 as a middle-aged man. Some reports say after the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Los Angeles that day, Douglas said, “This game can be super.”

Douglas has seen the automobile be reinvented. The famous actor probably had one of the first cell phones. Now people are snapping pictures of him with smartphones – scaring him.

Maybe his most famous movie is “Spartacus.” It’s a historic epic going back in the gladiator days. If an actor portrays Douglas in his biopic, it will be a period piece as well. And he will be there to watch it.

1. Betty White, age 96

She’s America’s sweetheart and a national treasure. A pioneer in television and radio, hosting “The Betty White Show” back in 1949. She became a regular on game shows throughout multiple decades.

Then sitcoms like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Mama’s Family” brought her into our homes in the 1970s and ’80s.

Next up on her plate was “The Golden Girls.” She joined forces with Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan from 1985 to 1992 to form the greatest collection of talent in sitcom history. Her portrayal of Rose Nylund is still super funny in 2018. All four characters in “The Golden Girls” are timeless and cool grandmother figures.

White is the last one standing from those four superpowers. Commercials and her recent show, “Hot in Cleveland,” have White respected and loved by all generations.

They say the good die young. In these cases, the greats live a long time in order to receive flowers.

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to thomas.sellers@journalinc.com.