Monday, March 9, 2009

Burning Brightly, 1896-1996

George Burns died March 9, 1996, almost six weeks after his 100th Birthday. Burns – born Nathan Birnbaum – began his road to stardom with three other kids singing in the basement of a local candy shop in New York City. From there, he quit school in the fourth grade and started doing anything he could to entertain (it would be over a quarter of a century before the dawn of the reality show, don’t forget): trick roller skating, teaching dance, singing, and adagio dancing in small-time vaudeville. It was during this stage in his life that he started smoking cigars for comedic effect and adopted his stage name, both of which we’d remember him for decades later.

Because there’s so much to be said about a centurion whose career, for which the entertainment industry will forever be greatful, began at age seven, I’ve decided instead to list my Top 5 favorite facts about George Burns:

Burns took his stage name from the Burns Brothers Coal Company, from whose trucks he’d stolen coal from to help heat his family’s home.

Up until his death, he smoked as many as 10 cigars a day.

Although his future wife Gracie Allen was in love with another man when they met, Burns carried around a ring in his pocket until she finally agreed to marry him.

Burns became the oldest recipient of an Academy Award when, at age 80, he won the 1976 Best Supporting Actor award for The Sunshine Boys. When commenting on the win, Burns said, “It couldn’t have happened to an older guy.”

When Burns was interred in the crypt with Gracie, the marker was changed to, “Gracie Allen & George Burns – Together Again,” because George had said he wanted Gracie to have top billing.

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