Oldest and Boldest: Celebrating Stars, Royals and Everyday Folks Who Set Aging Records Over the Last 15 Years
Tony Bennett, seen here in Toronto in 2004, set the world record as the oldest person to ever release an album of new material in 2021 when the then-95-year-old dropped the disc 'Love for Sale' with Lady Gaga. Photo: George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty Images
Recently, The New Yorker ran a political cover featuring an illustration of U.S. President Joe Biden, 80, former president Donald Trump, 77, former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, 83 and current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 81, running a race while using walkers to support themselves.
The cover was rightly pilloried as ageist (not to mention ableist) on social media. While McConnell, at 81, has admittedly suffered multiple concerning bouts of freezing in public, the other three are largely active and vibrant in their political pursuits (multiple criminal indictments of one notwithstanding).
So, the idea of The New Yorker depicting these four using walkers when none of them do in real life — based solely on their ages — proves just how deep-seated ageism remains in our society.
Yet, a look back into recent history shows that the years since Zoomer came into existence in 2008 have coincided with a number of incredible record-setting achievements by older people — in fact, the oldest people — stifling the ageist trope that one’s later years are reserved for rocking chairs, irrelevance and, apparently, New Yorker covers.
For example, the last 15 years brought us the oldest and longest-serving British monarch (Queen Elizabeth II at age 96) and, subsequently, the oldest incoming British monarch (King Charles at age 73).
We also bore witness to the oldest U.S. president ever inaugurated — twice! — with Trump achieving the record at age 70 in 2017 and Biden breaking the record at age 78 in 2021.
Then, there was technically the longest-living pope — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who lived until 95. We say “technically” because Pope Leo XIII lived and also served as pontiff until age 93, though Benedict remained Pope Emeritus after his historic retirement. It could go either way, which means it may take some divine intervention to sort that record out.
There’s no debate about the oldest nun, however, as Lucile Randon, known as Sister Andre, survived a bout with COVID to live until age 118. At the time of her death in January of this year, she was also recognized as the world’s oldest person.
Speaking of the world’s oldest people, since 2008 we’ve had 20 people lay claim to the title, including American-born Maria Branyas, the reigning world’s oldest person at age 116.
And if you think that’s amazing, check out Yūichirō Miura, a Japanese skier who became the oldest person to climb Mount Everest at age 80 in May 2013. Otto Thaning, meanwhile, became the oldest person to swim the English Channel when he did it at age 73 in 2014 — because apparently being a heart surgeon wasn’t impressive enough for the South African superman.
Some of the “oldest” titles brought with them the weight of an entire nation’s difficult history, like the appointment of Mary Simon, at 74, as Canada’s first Indigenous — and oldest incoming — Governor General in 2021. Simon aims to pursue an agenda of healing within Canada when it comes to its tragic history with Indigenous communities, saying “we must thoughtfully work hard towards the promise of a better tomorrow. I believe that we can build a hopeful future in a way that is respectful of what has happened in the past.”
Other “oldest” titles, meanwhile, spotlighted ordinary people living extraordinary lives, like Saskatoon’s Lorne Figley who, in 2015, at age 91 was officially recognized as the world’s oldest plumber.
And then there were two literal out of this world record-setters: Wally Funk, who’d dedicated her life to being a trailblazing astronaut and aviator, added “world’s oldest person to go into space” to her résumé when she flew upon Blue Origin’s New Shepard space tourism rocket in July 2021 at age 82. Sadly for her, that record was broken mere months later by Canadian actor William Shatner, who’d dedicated his life to playing a trailblazing astronaut on Star Trek. He blasted off in another suborbital Blue Origin rocket in October 2021 at age 90 and deemed the experience “unbelievable” in an emotional interview upon landing.
Shatner, of course, wasn’t the only Hollywood star to set aging records over the last decade-and-a-half.
In 2022, at age 80, Paul McCartney became the oldest person to ever headline the famed Glastonbury Festival; Martha Stewart became the oldest cover model in the history of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit at age 81 in 2023; and Betty White, at 88, achieved the rank of the oldest Saturday Night Live host of all time when she helmed the show after a viral push on her behalf in 2010.
The ageless Tony Bennett also made history by simply releasing the album Love for Sale with Lady Gaga in 2021. The disc made the then 95-year-old the oldest person to ever release an album of new material — a record that may stand forever, unless the Rolling Stones are still rocking in another 15-20 years (which, let’s be honest, is not out of the realm of possibility).
Meanwhile, you’ve heard of the EGOT: a person who’s won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award. It’s among the rarest of feats in the entertainment world, with only 24 EGOT winners ever. We, however, witnessed an aging EGOT since Zoomer’s inception, with the oldest Emmy winner (Norman Lear, 98, in 2020); Grammy winner (Pinetop Perkins, 97, in 2011), Oscar winner (James Ivory, 89, in 2018) and Tony winner (Lois Smith, 90, in 2020) in history.
And in 2019, Guinness World Records verified the world’s oldest band (no, it’s not the Rolling Stones), known as the Golden Senior Trio. Members of the group, which is Japanese, had an average age of 87 years old.
Then there’s the U.K.’s St. John’s House Choir, which ranked as the oldest choir in the world in 2013 — the same year they released their first album — with a group that boasted an average age of 91.
When interviewed about the feat, one 93-year-old choir member noted that, “I’ve been jogged into this at the end of my life. I’d never even considered singing before, now I feel totally enhanced by it.”
Which further proves that it’s never too late, and you’re certainly never too old, to discover or pursue a passion.
Heck, you may even set a world record while doing it.