January 20, 1896
New York City, New York, United States
March 9, 1996
Los Angeles, California, United States
Actor, Comedian, Roller skating and dance instructor
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After several unsuccessful attempts at a vaudeville career, Burns's luck changed in 1923, when he formed the Burns and Allen duo with young comic Gracie Allen (he would marry her in 1926). Gracie at first played the "straight man," but her wacky descriptions of her large family managed to garner all the laughs and the team wisely reversed roles. Having become vaudeville stars, the team appeared in several short films, made their feature debut with "The Big Broadcast" (1932). With their low-keyed comic banter, Burns and Allen became a successful radio team and then starred in their own TV series from 1950 until Allen's retirement in 1958 (she died six years later). Burns continued his career as a solo comedian and made an outstanding film comeback in 1975 with his award-winning performance as a cantankerous old vaudevillian in "The Sunshine Boys." He subsequently appeared in several features, notably as the omniscient title character of Carl Reiner's "Oh, God!" (1977), and continued to smoke his trademark cigars, talk-sing his charming vaudeville-based patter songs, and wryly joke about his ageless virility and various other ups and downs about growing old. As he had promised for years, Burns did indeed make it to age 100 and his centennial birthday was celebrated nationally. Seven weeks later, Burns died in his sleep of natural causes on March 9, 1996.