Connie Sawyer, Hollywood’s oldest working actress, died at 105 on Monday at a retirement home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles.
The actress starred in hundreds of roles on television and film throughout her career, from “A Hole in the Head” alongside Frank Sinatra to a more recent appearance in the television reboot show “Dynasty.”
The centenarian was born as Rosie Cohen in 1912 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Pueblo, Colorado. Both of her parents were from Romania, though her mother grew up in Denver. Sawyer’s father eventually emigrated to the United States to marry her mother in a match arranged by Sawyer’s uncle, according to The Jewish Journal.
The family moved to Oakland, California, when Sawyer was seven. Shortly after, her mother started entering her in talent shows, kicking off her nearly nine-decade career.
At the age of 19, Sawyer moved to New York where she began performing a “too-Jewish” act in nightclubs and vaudeville theaters. It was there that she was first noticed by a talent scout from the William Morris Agency who recognized her potential.
“He said, ‘You gotta get rid of that act. It’s too corny, and it’s Jewish. And your name is Jewish,’” Sawyer told The Jewish Journal in 2012, explaining her name change. “And these were all Jewish guys — but in 1940, it was kinda hush-hush to be Jewish.”
Sawyer’s first real break was at Grossinger’s, a famous resort in the Catskills, shortly after. Opening for performer Sophie Tucker, Sawyer recalls bombing her first night, but Tucker helped her find a new joke writer and from there, Sawyer took her act on the road.
“My career went sailing,” after that show, Sawyer later recalled.
But, according to People magazine, Sawyer really took off in the 1950s when Frank Sinatra’s agent discovered her playing an intoxicated Miss Wexler in the Broadway play, “A Hole in the Head.” Sinatra optioned the rights to the film and liked Sawyer so much in it, he insisted she star alongside him.
Sawyer eventually starred in more than 140 roles on television, including on shows such as “Seinfeld,” “Will & Grace” and “New Girl.” She had roles in “When Harry Met Sally” — Sawyer was a part of one of the “documentary couples” in the beginning of the film — and “Pineapple Express,” where Sawyer met and became friendly with fellow actor James Franco.
But for all her roles, Sawyer is perhaps most famous for her part in Jim Carrey’s 1994 movie, “Dumb and Dumber,” as the elderly woman in the scooter who steals Carrey’s wallet after he tries to help her out.
Sawyer’s final acting gig was in a short movie called “Entanglement” in 2014, according to IMDb. She was the oldest member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and voted for Oscar contenders yearly.
“Sometimes I’ll see movies twice to make sure I want to vote for them, I’m very serious about it,” she told People in November.
It was this work ethic that drove Sawyer to continue acting into her hundreds.
“I never really wanted to be a star,” Sawyer recalled in 2012. “It’s a business with me. I like to keep workin.’ Just keep me workin’ — and let me get the residuals.”
Sawyer is survived by two daughters and four grandchildren.
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