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Ninety is the New Eighty: A Salute to Some (Very) Long-Lasting Stars

Alive and kicking at age 95, Carl Reiner chats with close friends of a certain age who are still alive to kick in a new HBO documentary.

Now playing in theaters is Obit, a documentary about The New York Times’ renowned obituaries. It lets readers in on a little secret about death notices, one also true of Biography—that obituaries of notables are prepared long before their departures, sometimes so far in advance the authors predecease their subjects. 

A little secret about Carl Reiner’s HBO documentary, If You’re Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast, which begins airing tonight—we have obituaries ready to go on several of its interviewees. That may sound morbid, but all of these folks, including Reiner, are age 90 or older. We’re in no hurry to see them go…and to hear them tell it, they’re far too busy to be leaving anytime soon. 

Reiner told The New York Post that he intends to be the last one reading. “Everybody must read the obits. And I have a little agenda now: I look at the dates of people when they passed and say to each one, ‘I got you. I beat you.’”

But seeing a long-ago photo of him and Polly Bergen (d. 2014) together in her obituaries got him thinking about mortality, and how people his age beat the clock. Staying active and interested is key, and the hour-long program profiles fellow nonagenarians whose routines would tax people half their age, like D-Day veteran Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, 96, who’s never stopped parachuting, and marathoner Ida Keeling, still hitting the track at 102. 

The show begins with Tony Bennett, 90, singing “The Best is Yet to Come,” and includes a new song co-written and performed by three-time Oscar winner Alan Bergman, 91, “Just Getting Started.” The bulk of it consists of humorous, touching, and insightful interviews with some of Reiner’s showbiz cronies, some of whom he’s known since he was just getting started in the entertainment field. Let’s recap.

He and Mel Brooks, 90, created “The 2,000 Year Old Man” comedy skit in 1961, and it’s a tossup as to who’s the funniest comedian still drawing breath. Brooks is still planning movies and musicals, still screening his hits for sellout audiences, and always spritzing jokes. “I think BAFTA has made good choices tonight, especially me,” he said, as he received the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Fellowship Award in February.

In 1961 Reiner also created a TV show that he planned to star in—the studio brass loved the premise and the writing, but didn’t care for Reiner in the role of himself, so The Carl Reiner Show became The Dick Van Dyke Show, and a television legend was born. Van Dyke, 91, is in the cast of Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to his supercalifragilisticexpialidocious screen success, which will be released on Christmas Day, 2018—54 years after the original debuted.

Norman Lear, 94, was the subject of last year’s documentary Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. Not one to rest on his laurels, he’s the executive producer of Netflix’s acclaimed Cuban-American reboot of one of his 70s TV successes, One Day at a Time

There’s no stopping Betty White, 95, who rebooted herself as a sassy Saturday Night Live host, did five seasons on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, and recently charmed talk show host James Corden. Before her appearance on the program the Internet pronounced her dead, but she recovered before airtime. She also dumped a boyfriend, “after the initial lust period wore off,” a friend told Closer Weekly

Kirk Douglas celebrated his 100th birthday last December. His 12th book, Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood, reminiscences of his 63-year marriage, was published last month. He also contributed a new interview to a definitive Blu-ray edition of his classic film Spartacus (1960). Trivia: He and Doris Day, 95, may be the oldest onscreen pairing still around (in 1950’s Young Man with a Horn.) More trivia: his daughter-in-law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, played fellow centenarian Olivia de Havilland in the TV miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan. (She didn’t see the show, but threw Golden Age of Hollywood shade on it.)

Reiner’s advice for senior seniors lacking motivation applies equally to obituary writers struggling to keep up with all this very late in life success: “Get off your ass!” We’ll update our entries, Carl, we will.

‘If You’re Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast’ premieres on HBO on June 5 at 8pm.