It’s said laughter is the best medicine, and if so, these senior funny people keep us laughing, learning and spreading joyous fun to anyone smart enough to join in on the laughs. Though well past official retirement age, senior citizen entertainers like Joan Rivers, Betty White and Don Rickles boast professional projects and employment schedules busier and more dynamic than Hollywood hipsters half their age.
Betty White – 90
When Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, wishes you a happy birthday, by playing upon and satrizing his now worn out birth certificate debate debacle, you know you’re an entertainment institution. Betty White starred in some of the most classic sitcoms on TV, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls”, only to now star in one of the hottest modern laugh fests, “Hot In Cleaveland”, co-starring Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leaves and Wendie Malick. Not one to stand on her laurels, or just stand still for long, this energetic 90 year old has a new prank show on NBC, “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers”, where old folk turn the comedy tables on the kids. Think “Candid Camera” or “Punk’d” with Ashton Kutcher, but with Betty White calling the shots as host and executive producer on this hidden camera show.
Don Rickles – 85
Hey, hockey puck! It’s how Don Rickles addressed hecklers back in the day, and he’d probably still fire off a line like it. Rickles stars in movies, TV shows and was one of the funniest guests on talk shows for decades. Beyond anything else perhaps, Rickles is lauded as an insult comic. What Lenny Bruce or Howard Stern may have taken for granted in their comic formative years, Rickles helped trail blaze. He has no plans to retire, saying in an interview, “I’m in good health. I’m working better than I ever have. The audiences are great. Why should I retire? I’m like a fighter. The bell rings and you come out and fight. My energy comes alive. And I still enjoy it.”
Jerry Lewis – 86
Once partner of Dean Martin, and perennial MDA telethon host, this American funnyman boasts two stars on the Hollywood walk of fame. With his comedy buddy Martin, Lewis co-starred in a slew of highly successful comedy movies. Lewis began his association with the Muscular Dystrophy Association in the 1950’s, and ended it this past summer in August 2011. By no means does this signal Lewis as being idle or retired. Last year, Lewis signed a deal to remake some of his most successful movies, like “The Bellboy”, in which he’ll act as co-executive producer.
Ernest Borgnine – 95
At 95, he’s the grand, grandaddy on this list, but he came out with a book in 2008, and still makes appearances all over the place and then some. He’s not a true comedian in terms of the stand-up circuit, but he’s been in his fair share of comedies, and always brings a smile to the face. Borgnine won the Oscar for “Marty” as the title character, a chuckle filled drama about a lovable loser who finds love. In 2010, Borgnine appeared on NBC’s SNL (Saturday Night Live), and appeared in the movie “Red.”
Joan Rivers – 78
She’s the youngest of the funny folk here, but at 78, Joan Rivers gives all of us true inspiration for never growing old. This acerbic tongued lass is still going strong with TV shows, jewelry hawking and live stand-up comedy club appearances. Rivers has been a brilliant stand-up comedian for years, warred with legendary Elizabeth Taylor for her endless parade of fat jokes, filled in for Tonight Show legend Johnny Carson, then had a major rift and split with him as a professional colleague when FOX gave her a late night talk fest. These days, Rivers briskly sells her own QVC line of jewelry, and shares a reality show with her daughter Melissa, in “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best”, on WE tv.
Phyllis Diller – 94
Though mostly noted as one of America’s premiere and pioneer funny ladies, Diller is also a gifted painter and pianist. She’s also a pioneer in what many take for granted now in showbiz; Diller was an early star to go public and support the getting of extensive plastic surgery. The veteran stand-up comic is officially on record as having 15 plastic surgery procedures, and ABC’s TV news magazine 20/20 even devoted a segment to Diller’s cosmetic surgery. Her memoir, “Like A Lampshade In A Whorehouse”, was released in 2005, and actress Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile) may play Diller in a feature film about her life.