Famous Celebrities Who Died In Their 90s – Grunge

Ruby Dee at an event

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When a celebrity dies in their 90s, it brings up lots of mixed feelings. On the one hand, making it to their 10th decade is an amazing achievement. You can’t say they died before their time, and many were probably ready when death finally came for them. On the other hand, it’s sad when they don’t make it to their landmark 100th birthday. (Looking at you, Betty White. RIP.) And since they were in the public eye for so long, fans feel like they know them, like the celeb is an adopted grandparent.

Somehow, the deaths of nonagenarian celebrities can still come as a shock and feel like a tragedy. By that point, it often seems like they will manage to live forever. Once they are gone, at least they leave behind decades of movies, music, TV shows, and other creative endeavors for fans to enjoy.

Here are some of everyone’s favorite celebrities who died in their 90s.

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry performing in 2011

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In his autobiography (via the University of Missouri – St. Louis), Chuck Berry recalled hearing himself on the radio for the first time in 1955: “I picked [‘Maybellene’] up while driving home from Dad’s house in the station wagon. There is no way to explain how you feel when you first hear your first recording for the first time in your first new car.” He couldn’t have imagined the success he would go on to have.

But it wasn’t all good times. Berry spent time in jail for transporting women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” The time inside dimmed the light inside of him. A musician who toured with him recalled (via Biography), “Never saw a man so changed … He was cold, real distant and bitter. It wasn’t just jail, it was those years of one-nighters, grinding it out like that can kill a man, but I figure it was mostly jail.”

On his 90th birthday, exactly five months before he died, Berry announced he’d be releasing one last record, his first in 38 years, then truly retire. “I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!” He would finish the album, but not live to see it released that June. Chuck Berry died on March 18, 2017, of natural causes, aged 90. According to Find a Grave, Berry is buried in a family mausoleum at Bellerive Heritage Gardens in his home state of Missouri.

Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar performing on stage

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After Ravi Shankar’s death, his official site posted excerpts from an interview he did in 2007 where he reflected on his amazing career. “I feel lucky and blessed that even today after being on the stage for over seven decades, I perform to sold-out audiences and I am overwhelmed by the way I am received by my admirers. And all this when I perform our Indian classical music.”

It was quite unexpected that a sitar player who only played traditional Indian music would become so huge in the West. Audiences there became aware of Shankar through Beatle George Harrison. But while Shankar loved playing in the U.S., he found that, during the 1960s especially, there were some serious downsides. In a 1985 interview (via the New York Times) he recalled, “People would come to my concerts stoned, and they would sit in the audience drinking Coke and making out with their girlfriends. I found it very humiliating, and there were many times I picked up my sitar and walked away. I tried to make the young people sit properly and listen. I assured them that if they wanted to be high, I could make them feel high through the music, without drugs, if they’d only give me a chance. It was a terrible experience at the time.”

Ravi Shankar died on December 11, 2012, shortly after undergoing heart surgery, per the New York Times. He was 92. According to Find a Grave, Shankar was cremated and his ashes scattered in India, California, and the Pacific Ocean.

Lena Horne

Lena Horne at an award show

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Lena Horne was a superbly talented singer and actor but was continually denied opportunities simply because of her race. “The whole thing that made me a star was the war,” Lena Horne told an interviewer in 1990 (via the New York Times). “Of course the Black guys couldn’t put Betty Grable’s picture in their footlockers. But they could put mine.” But when she spoke out about how badly Black soldiers were treated in WWII, she said was effectively blacklisted from Hollywood.

But Horne still spoke out about racism and was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement. By the 1970s, her career saw a resurgence, reports the Washington Post. And eventually, she was able to find peace with how her race had defined her life in so many ways due to bigotry and intolerance. When she turned 80, she told an interviewer, “My identity is very clear to me now. I am a Black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”

Lena Horne died on May 9, 2010, of congestive heart failure, aged 92. According to Find a Grave, Horne was cremated, but it is unknown if her cremains were scattered anywhere or simply kept by her loved ones.

Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson at a premier

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Cicely Tyson risked a lot to follow her dream of being a performer. She told NPR, “My mother did not want me to be an actress and she said I could not live in her house and do that … And she didn’t speak to me for a couple of years.” Considering the New York Times reports that the amazing performances she racked up over the years on stage and screen, which netted her three Emmys, a Tony, and an honorary Oscar, it was worth it. “She’s our Meryl Streep,” performer Vanessa Williams told an interviewer in 2013. “She was the person you wanted to be like in terms of an actress, in terms of the roles she got and how serious she took her craft. She still is.”

That same year, when she was in her late 80s, she returned to Broadway. Her role in “The Trip to Bountiful” won her a Tony. In her acceptance speech, she said, “It’s been 30 years since I stood onstage; I really didn’t think it would happen again in my lifetime, and I was pretty comfortable with that. Except that I had this burning desire to do just one more. ‘One more great role,’ I said. I didn’t want to be greedy. I just wanted one more.” Amazingly, she would come back to Broadway at 90 in another starring role.

Cicely Tyson died on January 28, 2021, at the age of 96. According to Find a Grave, she is buried in the famous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee in fur at an event

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Ruby Dee was not afraid to take on the hardest roles for actors out there. And while she faced bigotry because of her race, she didn’t let this stop her from playing parts that were traditionally played by white women, the Washington Post reported.

In 1970, she won an Obie Award (the Off-Broadway version of the Tonys). Reviewers were effusive, with the New York Times critic writing, “Ruby Dee … is giving the finest performance I have ever seen. It is complete — it has the quickness of life about it. Never for a moment do you think she is acting.” Yet often her talent wasn’t appreciated because of her race. That same year she told an interviewer, “I’m sick of being offered scripts about hookers or goody-good nurses! Black women fall in love and have adventures and secrets and are just as driven and gutsy as a lot of white ladies in middle America.”

Dee was known for her long, loving marriage to fellow actor Ossie Davis and her tireless work in the Civil Rights movement. In 2008, she explained her desired epitaph to Jet magazine: “If I leave any thought behind, it is that. We were in this thing together, so let’s love each other right now. Let’s make sense of things right now. Let’s make it count somehow right now, because we are in this thing together.”

Ruby Dee died on June 11, 2014, of natural causes, aged 91. According to Find a Grave, she is buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn at an event with tony curtis

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Ask anyone to describe how talented they think Katharine Hepburn was and be prepared to hear some of the most effusive praise ever. In her obituary, the Washington Post called Hepburn “an actress of breathtaking talent.” The illustrious Tennessee Williams called her “a playwright’s dream — a dream actress.” And director Frank Capra summed it up succinctly: “There are actresses and actresses — then there is Hepburn.” Her abilities were honored by her peers with plenty of hardware. She was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards 12 times between 1934 and 1982, and she won four of them.

Hepburn was classically modest about her talents, allegedly once saying (per the Guardian) that acting was “the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four.” But regardless of if that was how she really felt about her job, she loved it. “Work is the only thing that ever made anyone happy,” she once said. “The notion that work is a burden is a terrible mistake.” She refused to retire, and IMDb lists her final role in a TV movie in 1994, when she would have been about 87. After that, her health was too bad to continue performing.

Katharine Hepburn died on June 29, 2003, after suffering from a variety of medical issues, aged 96. According to Find a Grave, she is buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.

Doris Day

Doris Day  at the oscars in 1989

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While Doris Day is often remembered as a person similar in real life to the roles she played, she adamantly disputed she was anything like her characters. “My public image is unshakably that of America’s wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness,” she said in “Doris Day: Her Own Story” (via the New York Times). “An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played. But I am Miss Chastity Belt, and that’s all there is to it.”

But Day’s sweet as pie roles meant people often failed to recognize just how crazy talented she was. The bandleader Les Brown once said, “As a singer Doris belongs in the company of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.” And while her films seem full of outdated gender stereotypes to more modern viewers, at the time they were shockingly revolutionary. The film critic Molly Haskell explained that rather than taking on parts where she was asked to be a quiet, submissive woman, Day was actually “challenging, in her working-woman roles, the limited destiny of women to marry, live happily ever after, and never be heard from again.” Outside of acting, Day was passionate about animal rescue, even starting her own foundation.

Doris Day died on May 13, 2019, of pneumonia, aged 97. Her manager explained (via USA Today) that there would be no funeral of any kind, because Day “didn’t like death.” According to Find a Grave, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered.

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich performing in France

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Marlene Dietrich was born in Germany and got her start singing and acting in clubs and movies there. Her breakout role got her a Hollywood contract, where she morphed into the sexual goddess fans know her as, according to the New York Times.

By the time WWII started, Dietrich was a huge star. And there was no internal conflict when it came to the country of her birth fighting against her adopted country: Dietrich was for the U.S.A. all the way. Nine years after she arrived, just as the war was starting in 1939, she became a citizen. “America took me into her bosom when I no longer had a native country worthy of the name,” she said. Dietrich even did her part for the war effort. “She was happiest serving the Allied troops during World War II,” her grandson Peter Riva told Closer. “She called them ‘my boys’ for the rest of her life, and they responded accordingly.”

Marlene Dietrich died on May 6, 1992, of kidney failure, aged 90.According to Find a Grave, she is buried at Friedhof Schöneberg III in Berlin. However, not all Germans were happy that the actress chose not to be buried in her adopted and much beloved home, but the land of her birth. A headline on the front page of The BZ newspaper (via UPI) blared “Marlene’s grave spat on.” Despite the fact the war had ended long before, and everyone could agree the Nazis were the bad guys, some Germans still saw Dietrich as a traitor.

Zsa Zsa Gabor

Zsa Zsa Gabor holding a camera

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Zsa Zsa Gabor was known as a socialite, but she also had a long career in Hollywood. She loved it all, once saying (via the Los Angeles Times), “I don’t want to retire as long as I live. What the hell do I want to retire for?” But there was a side to Gabor people did not want to get on. She even ended up in court over slapping a police officer, but she was nonplussed by it all. “What is the worst thing that can happen?” she asked. “I go to jail for two days. Big deal.”

Zsa Zsa was a fierce defender of animals, supporting charities and rescuing all kinds of animals and taking care of them herself on her farm. When asked about his famous neighbor by the press, a veterinarian named Richard Gebhart said, “I don’t judge people as to their celebrity status. I judge people by how they take care of their animals. And she takes excellent care of her animals.”

Zsa Zsa Gabor died on December 18, 2016, after a long illness, aged 99 … probably. ABC News reports this is an estimate, since she never admitted what her real birthdate was. According to Find a Grave, she was cremated and interred at the National Cemetery in Budapest, Hungary. (Well, three-quarters of her was. A quarter of her cremains stayed in L.A.) However, it took quite a while for her remains to be laid to rest: five years, reports Vanity Fair.

Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner at an event

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Hugh Hefner is perhaps more controversial now that he was even in the 1950s, thanks to accusations about his treatment of his much younger girlfriends and Playboy Playmates that are completely awful.

While these newer claims are on a whole other level, Hefner would probably be nonplussed by them were he still alive, considering he was attacked over Playboy from the beginning. Hefner was proud of his magazine, but in his editorial in the first issue (with old photos of Marilyn Monroe as the centerfold), he wrote (via the New York Times), “We don’t expect to solve any world problems or prove any great moral truths.” The attacks from moralists and feminists came thick and fast over the years. In a 1955 interview, famous broadcaster Mike Wallace asked Hefner, “Isn’t that really what you’re selling? A high-class dirty book?” Critic Susan Brownmiller debated Hefner on TV in 1970, explaining to him, “The role that you have selected for women is degrading to women because you choose to see women as sex objects, not as full human beings.”

The Los Angeles Times reports Hugh Hefner died on September 27, 2019, of cardiac arrest brought on by septicemia, aged 91. According to Find a Grave, he is interred at Westwood Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California. Hello Magazine reported he was said to have been laid to rest “dressed in his iconic red silk pajamas, jacket and captain’s hat and was buried in a [vault] next to Marilyn Monroe” which he purchased decades before he died.

Sean Connery

Sean Connery at an event

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Unlike a lot of other long-lived actors, Sean Connery retired well before he needed to. After an illustrious career playing James Bond and many other notable roles, he left Hollywood behind in 2003. Why? According to the Independent, it’s simple: “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Connery’s final film was a flop, and he said the director should be “locked up for insanity.”

He didn’t even come back for the fourth Indiana Jones movie, writing on his website, “If anything could have pulled me out of retirement, it would have been an Indiana Jones film. But in the end, retirement is just too much fun.” However, rumors said he actually didn’t do it because of creative differences with Steven Spielberg. And friend of Connery’s, Michael Caine, said, “The movie business retired him because he didn’t want to play small parts about old men and they weren’t offering him any young parts in romantic leads.”

Sean Connery died on October 31, 2020, aged 90. The BBC reports his deep connection to his homeland was celebrated, with the former first minister of Scotland Alex Salmond calling Connery “the world’s greatest Scot, the last of the real Hollywood stars, the definitive Bond … Sean Connery was all of these things but much more. He was also a staunch patriot, a deep thinker and outstanding human being … ‘Scotland Forever’ wasn’t just tattooed on his forearm but was imprinted on his soul.” According to Find a Grave, Connery was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Scotland and the Bahamas.

Betty White

Betty White celebrating a birthday on set

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Betty White had an extraordinarily long career in Hollywood, with more than one comeback over the years. CBS News notes that she was most known for her roles on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and, of course, “Golden Girls,” but her list of credits is pages deep, and includes quite unexpected appearances including on WWE Raw. In recent years, she was rediscovered by younger generations, who petitioned to have her host “Saturday Night Live,” People reports. Her name trending on Twitter was enough to give anyone a heart attack until they checked she was okay.

Eventually, she would not be, and somehow it came way too soon despite her amazing longevity. Betty White died on December 31, 2021, from the effects of a stroke she suffered the week before. She was 99, less than three weeks shy of her 100th birthday. White taped a thank you for all her fans 11 days before she died, intending to release it on her birthday (via Today). She said, “I just want to thank you all for your love and support over the years. Thank you so much — and stick around!”

While many celebrations had to be canceled or altered due to her passing, after her death, a charity drive to raise money for the actor’s favorite cause – animal welfare – resulted in almost 400,000 people donating $12.7 million (and counting) to animal rescue organizations. According to Find a Grave, White was cremated.

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