By Susan King, Published February 19 2012
The 10 oldest actors to win Oscars – so farLOS ANGELES – Two legendary actors – Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow – are competing for the best supporting actor trophy this Oscar season.
Despite their pedigree – Plummer has been acting in films for more than 50 years and is best known as Captain von Trapp in 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” and Von Sydow is closely associated with the seminal Swedish director Ingmar Bergman – neither has won an Academy Award.
But that’s likely to change. Plummer has already won numerous awards for his turn as a widower who comes out of the closet in “Beginners,” while Von Sydow has earned kudos as an elderly man who doesn’t speak in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” If either wins at this Sunday’s Academy Awards , he will become the oldest performer to garner an acting Oscar. Both are 82 years old, with Von Sydow, who turns 83 in April, eight months older than Plummer.
Here’s a look at the 10 oldest Oscar winners in the competitive acting categories so far:
The British-born actress was 80 years and 252 days old when she won the lead actress Oscar for 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy.” Not long after that, Tandy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Tandy continued to work as she battled the disease, earning a supporting actress nomination for 1991’s “Fried Green Tomatoes.” She died in 1994
The beloved comedian, who was partnered with his wife, Gracie Allen, in films, vaudeville and TV, won the supporting actor Oscar as a member of an old comedy team reuniting for a TV special in 1975’s “The Sunshine Boys.” He was 80 years and 69 days when he picked up the Academy Award. Burns’ film career took off, scoring a hit in 1977’s “Oh, God!” and 1979’s “Going in Style.” He continued to work into his 90s. He died in 1996.
Best known for his romantic comedy roles in the 1930s in such classics as 1939’s “Ninotchka,” Douglas earned his first supporting actor award as the stern father in 1963’s “Hud”; he won his second as a fragile businessman in 1979’s “Being There” at the age of 79 years and nine days. He made four more features before his death in 1981.
Gielgud was already one of the most accomplished British stage, theater and TV actors when he won a supporting actor Oscar at the age of 77 and 349 days as the loving but acerbic butler in 1981’s “Arthur.” He had previously been nominated in this category for 1964’s “Becket.” He continued working until his death in 2000.
The mustachioed Ameche had been a big star at 20th Century Fox in the 1930s and ’40s, best known for such musicals as 1941’s “Moon Over Miami” and such dramatic fare as 1939’s “The Story of Alexander Graham Bell.” For his work in 1985’s “Cocoon,” he won the supporting actor Oscar at the age of 77 years and 297 days old. He played a senior citizen who encounters a fountain of youth – one scene featured the actor break dancing. The Oscar rejuvenated his career. One of his best post-Oscar roles was in David Mamet’s 1988 “Things Change.” He continued to work until his death in 1993.
Ashcroft, a star of the British stage, had appeared in very few films when she won a supporting actress Oscar at the age of 77 years and 93 days for David Lean’s final film, 1984’s “Passage to India,” She played a British woman traveling to India with her son’s fiancee. She continued to work until 1989. She died in 1991.
The veteran superstar had largely been ignored by the academy, earning only a lead actor nomination for 1940’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and a nod as producer of the 1957 best picture nominee “12 Angry Men.” He finally won a lead actor Oscar at the age of 76 and 317 days for his role as the husband of Katharine Hepburn’s character in 1981’s “On Golden Pond.” Fonda, though, was too frail to attend the 1982 ceremony, but his daughter Jane, who was nominated for supporting actress for the film, did. “Oh, Dad, I’m so happy and proud for you,” she said. Henry Fonda died in August of that year.
Fonda’s “Golden Pond” costar also won the lead actress Oscar for the drama. It was her fourth win – she was 74 years and 275 days old. And just as with the other three times she had won, Hepburn was nowhere to be found at the ceremony to pick up her Oscar. Hepburn continued to work in films, TV and even theater until 1994. She died in 2003.
The character actor, who had earned supporting actor nominations for 1952’s “Sudden Fear” and 1953’s “Shane,” finally won a supporting actor Oscar at the age of 73 years and 41 days for his comedic turn as an old ranch hand in the 1991 hit “City Slickers.” He even performed one-armed push-ups onstage when he went up to pick up his award. Palance died in 2006.
A nominee for lead actor for 1966’s “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” and 1968’s “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” Arkin was 72 years and 336 days old when he won the supporting actor Academy Award for his performance as a foul-mouthed grandfather in 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine.” Arkin is still a working actor; his latest film, “Thin Ice,” opened Friday.