Connie Sawyer, Hollywood’s Oldest Working Actress Dies at 105

February 3, 2018

Hollywood’s oldest working actress, Connie Sawyer, recently passed away at the whopping age of 105. Her career as a character actress was both long–almost nine decades!–and prolific with over 140 credits.

Most of Sawyer’s credits were in TV hit shows spanning the course of years including The Jackie Gleason Show, The Andy Griffith Show, BonanzaAll in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Starsky & Hutch, Seinfeld, and Will & Grace. Her film credits include Pineapple Express, Dumb and Dumber, When Harry Met Sally, and The Way West. More recently, Sawyer played the mother of James Woods’ character “Sully” in Showtime’s Ray Donovan–a role that she loved playing because she “really got to cuss.”

As a youngster, Connie took tap dance and singing lessons, and her mother would enter her into various contests. But when she entered a radio station amateur contest just out of high school, Connie came in first place winning a year-long contract with the station’s variety show. Afterwards, being the energetic go-getter that she was, Sawyer put together an act and started auditioning every chance she got. During the Great Depression, Connie spent time in San Francisco performing as a stand-up comedienne. Back in the 1930’s, it was called “doing a single,” and her act was well-received. “I was lucky. I always had a mentor. Somebody always wanted to help me,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer experienced all the ups and downs it takes to develop into a professional performer. She once relayed the story of bombing terribly onstage, and then crying and running offstage. “Was that awful? Non-professional! I wanted to go home,” Sawyers recalled. But while in her dressing room, her tears were interrupted by the popular entertainer Sophie Tucker who encouraged her, saying, “Kid? You got talent. You look great … we’re going to get you an act.” Connie put together Vaudeville and nightclub acts that kept her busy–even doing four shows a day. Most importantly, she kept developing her craft, and she eventually became a headliner in New York.

But her big break came when an agent of Frank Sinatra named Lillian Small was impressed with her onstage performance in the 1957 Broadway comedy A Hole in the Head. In fact, the play was soon after adapted into a film, and Sawyer was cast alongside Frank Sinatra. The famous crooner advised her, “Never give up, and you’ll always find a good part somewhere, sometime.” And indeed, Sawyer was fortunate enough to work consistently from there on out. She never did become a big movie star, but that didn’t matter to her as she loved her consistent work as an actress.

Sawyer attributed her long-lasting life to both her good genes and her active lifestyle. If she wasn’t acting, Connie could be seen swimming, line dancing, or golfing.

According to her daughter, Lisa Dudley, Sawyer suffered a heart attack and later died in her place of residence, the Motion Picture Television Fund retirement home in Woodland Hills, California.

Sawyer is survived by her two daughters and large extended family including four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.