Connie Sawyer, who started her career as a stand-up comedian at the age of 18 and continued to work until recently, died over the weekend at her Woodland Hills home in Los Angeles, California. She was 105.
Although the cause of death has not been established yet, it is believed that she died of age-related issues.
Born on November 27, 1912, Sawyer attributed her longevity to her activeness and her genes.
“There aren’t that many people around who are 105,” she told PEOPLE on her 105th birthday this past November. “I always say you have to move, you have to get off the couch. I used to swim, play golf, tap dance, line dance — I was always moving and I was lucky,” she said.
“My parents lived a long time. Papa died at 91 and my mama was 89, so I had good genes too. That’s the reason,” she added.
Age was just a number for this energetic actress. Despite the fact that not much work was coming her way of late – as she admitted to PEOPLE in November – she hadn’t called it a day.
In her long career spanning several decades, she starred in some major blockbusters and alongside some big names including: “A Hole in the Head” with Frank Sinatra, “True Grit” with John Wayne, “Dumb and Dumber” with Jim Carey and “When Harry Met Sally” with Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan and Carry Fisher – to name a few.
She also has some 140 TV credits to her name, which include: The Jackie Gleason Show, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dynasty, Murder She Wrote, Seinfeld, Will & Grace and How I met your mother, among many others.
Some of her most recent appearances were alongside Live Schreiber in “Ray Donovan” and a part in “New Girl” opposite Zooey Deschanel in 2014.
Sawyer was also seen in “NCIS: Los Angeles” in 2013 and in 2012 she appeared in “2 Broke Girls,” as well.
While a majority of her TV and film appearances saw her in modest roles, it never really bothered Sawyer as she told the Jewish Journal back in 2012.
“I never really wanted to be a star,” she said. “It’s a business with me. I like to keep workin’. Just keep me workin’ — and let me get the residuals.”
“I’m not a dreamer. I’m a realist,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2012. “Life is fun — that has nothing to do with whether you become a star or not. … And if the parts aren’t too large, I can go around talking to everybody. It’s like going to a party.”
Born to orthodox Jewish parents in Pueblo, Colorado, Sawyer spent her early days in Oakland, California, having moved there at the age of seven.
It was Sawyer’s mother who was the inspiration behind her opting for a career in showbiz.
“My mother loved showbiz,” Sawyer told Jewish Journal. “She would enter me into those amateur contests like they have today — what do they call them? ‘Idol’? They think it’s new,” she said. “It’s not new.”
Her first paid performance was in “Al Pearce and His Gang,” a San Francisco variety show in which she did a stand-up comedy act. Back in the days, a stand-up act was known as “a single”, she told Jewish Journal.
Sawyer, who was born Rosie Cohen, relocated to New York in 1940 where she performed in nightclubs and vaudeville theatres. She was told by a talent scout from the William Morris Agency that her act and her name was too Jewish to do her much good.
“He said, ‘You gotta get rid of that act. It’s too corny, and it’s Jewish. And your name is Jewish,’ ” Sawyer told Jewish Journal. “And these were all Jewish guys — but in 1940, it was kinda hush-hush to be Jewish.”
Her first decent break happened when she got picked to open for Sophie Tucker at Grossinger’s in Catskill, but her first act at the famous resort was not received well by the audience, forcing her to run offstage. She even decided to quit showbiz for good after the disastrous first night but Tucker convinced her that she had it in her to make it.
“The audience didn’t like me; they didn’t laugh,” she recalled. “I was upset. I started to cry. … I ran offstage. Very unprofessional. And then Sophie Tucker came to my dressing room. I said, ‘I’m going home. I’m going to call Mama.’ And she said, ‘No, you’re not. We’re gonna help you. You’ve got talent, you’re pretty and cute.’ … Cut to the chase, we put an act together, it was fine and I auditioned for the Reuben Blue, an East Side supper club. I got the job and from there, I just sailed.”
Her major breakthrough came in the late 1950s when she was asked to reprise her role in the movie version of the Broadway show “A Hole in the Head” opposite Frank Sinatra.
“That really was fun, I loved Sinatra,” she recalled during her chat with PEOPLE last year. “He could be mean if you crossed him, but he was very generous. Anyone who needed money or anything like that, he gave it to them. He was a wonderful man that way.”
Speaking to PEOPLE about the difference in the Hollywood of the 1950s and the Hollywood of today, she said: “Oh boy, what a difference. They helped you then. There was a lot of love going on, you know? Whereas today, it’s so distant. It’s cold really. And it was warm when I was trying to be somebody and learn an act. It was fun.”
— Rachel Bloom (@Racheldoesstuff) January 23, 2018
#RIP, CONNIE SAWYER, #Hollywood‘s oldest working #actress, who has left us at age 105. (We will always love you!) More about Connie’s remarkable life: https://t.co/6oP9sprcCo #ConnieSawyer #Showfolk @ShowfolkFilm #MPTF @MPTF #TCMParty pic.twitter.com/6GVqDSLES5
— Monica Lewis Tribute (@songbirdmonica) January 23, 2018
Goodbye to a cherished friend, actress Connie Sawyer, at 105 Hollywood’s oldest working actress.
I just knew… https://t.co/rLRQVWuzA6
— Jim Beaver (@jumblejim) January 22, 2018
— Angela Lansbury News (@_AngelaLansbury) January 22, 2018
— Cullen Daniel (@cullendaniel) January 22, 2018