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Burns with Cigar

George Burns: 'Fall in love with what you do ... It works'

Comic dies at 100

March 9, 1996
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Sherri Sylvester

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- George Burns -- a comedian, actor, singer, dancer -- died Saturday, just weeks after his 100th birthday.

Ever-present cigars, afternoon naps, bridge with his buddies and a couple of martinis each day saw Burns through those 100 years. He also credited his longevity to this philosophy:

George Burns

"Fall in love with what you do for a living. I don't care what it is. It works." (51K AIFF sound or 51K WAV sound)

-- George Burns

He did what he loved for 93 years. He was Nathan Birnbaum when he began, playing the streets of New York in the Peewee Quartet. Born into a family of 12 children, he supported them with his show business earnings until after his father died. Burns was still in vaudeville when he met Gracie Allen. He took the name George Burns and the two became a team. (145K AIFF sound or 145K WAV sound)

Burns and Allen

"We were what you call a disappointment act," Burns explained in a 1991 interview. "If an act got sick, we'd take their place."

That lasted for about two months, until Burns and Allen took over for an act at the Bushwick Theater in Brooklyn...and stayed. They remained together as a comedy act, and as husband and wife after marrying in 1926 and raising two children.

Over the next four decades, Burns and Allen starred in radio, television and film. After Allen's death in 1964, Burns continued in television (111K AIFF sound or 111K WAV sound). Behind the camera, he produced the series "Mr. Ed." A 35-year absence from film ended when he stepped into a role in "The Sunshine Boys," written by Neil Simon.


He replaced his friend Jack Benny in the role, following Benny's death. The acting brought Burns an Oscar at 80. Then Burns played God in two "Oh, God" movies at 81, and picked up a recording contract at 84 and won a Grammy.

Then he began writing -- 10 books in all. He received an honorary doctorate and stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. During the 90s -- his 90s -- he continued to work at his office every day. He played concert dates he fell in the shower in July 1994. He was in ill health after that.

Those who celebrated his 100th birthday say he was energized by work. Longtime friend Jan Murray remembers a dinner party at which Burns was asked if he believed in the "hereafter."

"And with at twinkle in his eye and a cigar, he looked at him and said, 'I don't know what they've got, but I'm bringing my own music,'" Murray recalled. (111K AIFF sound or 111K WAV sound)

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