This is the First Web Page on the Internet to memorialize George Burns
2:07 PM (ET) 3/9 George Burns Dies at 100
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.--George Burns, the wry, cigar-smoking comic who played straight man to Gracie Allen for 35 years, then found new popularity when he won an Academy Award at age 80, died Saturday just weeks after turning 100. Burns, whose health had been declining in recent years, died at 10 a.m. at his home, said his manager, Irving Fein. He was with his son, Ronnie Burns, a nurse and a housekeeper, Fein said.
His career lasted more than 90 years, spanning vaudeville, radio, movies, television, nightclubs, best-selling books, recordings and video. He was the oldest actor ever to receive an Oscar. At age 98, he was still delighting audiences with his perfectly timed quips, many of them at his own expense. ("I'm doing better with 18-year-old women now than when I was 18.") Fans eagerly awaited his long-promised 100th birthday shows in Las Vegas, with the $100 tickets selling out long in advance. "Age to me means nothing," he once said. "I can't get old: I'm working...When I'm out in front of an audience, all that love and vitality sweeps over me and I forget my age." But declining health ended his performing career after he was injured in a fall in July 1994.
The 100th birthday shows were canceled. More recently, ailing with the flu, Burns was unable even to be a spectator at a gala in his honor a few days before he turned 100. He did put out a statement, saying, "What do you give a man who's been so blessed? Another 100 years? A night with Sharon Stone?" He spent the birthday quietly. At the White House, President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hailed his "knowing smile and dry wit," adding, "His youthful attitude, now a century old, continues to inspire us today." Burns' career was at a crossroads after Gracie --the ultimate ditzy comedian and the love of Burns' life--retired in 1958. She died in 1964 and he never remarried.
He developed his own act as a single, starring in TV specials and playing Las Vegas with such discoveries as Ann-Margret and Bobby Darin. His popularity soared in the 1970s, with his Oscar for the aging vaudevillian in "The Sunshine Boys" touching off a string of movies, books and sold-out nightclub appearances. He said he accepted the role in the Neil Simon comedy, his first movie in more than 35 years, for the same reason he continued performing after Gracie retired: "You can't quit show business-- not at my age." The role was to have gone to his close friend Jack Benny, who died in 1974. Only actress Jessica Tandy was older than Burns, by a few months, when she won an Oscar in 1990 for "Driving Miss Daisy." "I've been in show business all my life and I've loved every minute of it," Burns said when he accepted the award. "It proves one thing--if you stay in the business long enough, and if you get to be old enough, you get to be new again."
That movie role was followed by starring parts in the "Oh, God" series, "Just You and Me, Babe," "Going in Style," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "18 Again!" As the Supreme Being in the "Oh, God" movies, Burns wore baggy pants, sneakers and a golf cap. He said he was a bit nervous at first about taking the role "because I didn't know what kind of makeup he uses. Besides, he's bigger than Milton Berle, you know." But he decided, "Why shouldn't I play God? Anything I do at my age is a miracle." In January 1994, at his 98th birthday party in Las Vegas, Burns remarked: "It's nice to be here. At 98, it's nice to be anywhere."
Burns and Miss Allen were already vaudeville partners when they married in 1926. They continued working together for more than three decades, becoming one of the most popular couples in show business through a string of movie appearances, 19 years on radio and eight more years as stars of their own television series, "The Burns and Allen Show." Burns frequently said Gracie had the hardest part in the act, which changed little over the years. He would feed her simple questions, such as "How's your brother?" and she would have to respond with convoluted, nonsensical answers. He did two more television series after Gracie retired in 1958. "The George Burns Show" in 1959-60, featured his son, Ronnie, and the other in 1964-65, "Wendy and Me," co-starred Connie Stevens.
After Gracie's death, Burns adopted the role of raconteur, telling funny stories that he said began in truth and were embellished over the years. Using his cigar for punctuation, alternately taking a puff and flicking off the ashes with taps of his little finger, Burns was a master of timing and one-liners. On retirement: "I can't afford to die when I'm booked." On acting: "Acting is easy. If the director wants me to cry, I think of my sex life. If the director wants me to laugh, I think of my sex life." On why he was considered sexy: "I've been longer at it that anyone else." On age: "I've reached the point where I get a standing ovation for just standing." But it wasn't true; his output was amazing. In 1980 he recorded an album for Mercury-Polygram, "I Wish I Was 18 Again," and the title song became a hit single. He followed with the albums "George Burns in Nashville" and "Young at Heart." His books, some written with gag writer Hal Goldman, included "Dear George," "How to Live to be 100 or More: The Ultimate Diet, Sex and Exercise Book" and "Gracie: A Love Story." His last book, "A Hundred Years, a Hundred Stories," was published at his 100th birthday. A recording of him reading excerpts from "Gracie: A Love Story" won a Grammy award for best spoken-word record in 1991. "I eat eggs, I eat salt, I smoke cigars and I drink liquor," Burns once said. "If you stayed away from all the things that are supposed to be bad for you, you wouldn't have anything left."
He celebrated his 95th birthday in January 1991 with a television special and a performance in Las Vegas. "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old," he told the standing-room-only crowd. "I'm going to stay in show business until I'm the only one left." Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum on Jan. 20, 1896, one of 12 children. He was raised on New York's Lower East Side, and was 7 years old when he began singing with the Peewee Quartet in saloons and tenements. He left school in the fourth grade, selling newspapers to help support his family. In his teens, Burns began song and comedy routines in "lousy little theaters that played lousy little acts--and I was one of them." He said he was a bad performer for more than a decade. "Then I met Gracie." That was in New Jersey in 1922. She was a part-time secretary and daughter of a song-and-dance man; he was breaking up a vaudeville act and asked her to join him in a new one. Their first booking was for $15 for three days in Brooklyn, Burns recalled. He said he was the funnyman for a total of one performance. "The audience laughed at her straight lines and didn't laugh at my jokes. So I became the straight man," he explained.
Burns said he thought of Gracie constantly and visited her grave once a month. "With no one else around, George just talks to Gracie, telling her what has happened to him and his career in the past month," Fein once said. "George says, 'I don't know if Gracie can hear me, but it certainly does me a lot of good.' " There were other memories of the past at one of his favorite spots, the Hillcrest Country Club, where he once shared a round table with some of the biggest stars in comedy. "They're all upstairs. All of them gone--Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, George Jessel, Lou Holtz, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx," he said. The moment of reflection ended in a standard Burns quip: "I can't afford to die; I'd lose too much money." Survivors include a son, Ronald Burns of Los Angeles; a daughter, Sandra Luckman of San Diego; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. A private funeral was scheduled for Tuesday, Fein said. (Copyright 1996 Associated Press)
GOODBYE GEORGE and GOD BLESS.......
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