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Pat Gallagher


Celebrities Who Became Household Names After They Turned 50

Posted: 05/29/2012 6:54 am

Everybody has to pay their dues -- whether it is in business or the entertainment field -- before they make it to the top. In theory. Of course, child actors and (some) reality stars are two exceptions (I won't name any famous reality stars because I'll break out in a rash). For the most part, however, hard-working show business types can work for years or even decades before they become a household name. Call them late bloomers. It's a tough road out there and it takes some longer than others to navigate their way around a few select people in Tinsel Town.

Here are a few high-profile, late-blooming celebrities (past and present) who twisted in the wind for a few years before they became famous and/or eligible for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:

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  • 1. Betty White

    Doesn't it seem like Betty White has been around since David torpedoed Goliath with a slingshot? Our favorite golden girl is only 90 though. Even though Miss Betty White began her career in the 1940s on radio, and later appeared on late night talk shows and game shows (including <em>Password</em>) in the 50s and 60s, she wasn't a household name until, at the age of 51, she began playing "The Happy Homemaker" Sue Ann Nivens on <em>The Mary Tyler Moore Show</em> (1973-1977). <br /> <br /> She continued her rise to fame as the lovable, naïve Rose Nylund on <em>The Golden Girls</em> from 1985 to 1992. In 2010, at age 88, she became a superstar after her hilarious appearance in the <a href="" target="_hplink">Snickers Super Bowl commercial</a>. What soon followed was a grassroots effort that got her a hosting gig on <em>Saturday Night Live</em>, giving her that final "cool" status. We love you, Betty White! May you live to be 150!

  • 2. Sharon Osbourne

    Heavy metal vocalist Ozzy Osbourne has been famous for over 40 years as lead singer of the English band Black Sabbath. His wife, Sharon, however, did not become a household name until their family reality show <em>The Osbournes</em> premiered on MTV in 2002. By then, just barely 50 years old, Sharon had become a media darling, which opened up many doors. <br /> <br /> She went on to become a judge on <em>America's Got Talent </em>and has been co-host of the CBS daytime show <em>The Talk </em>since it debuted October 2010. I caught up with Sharon in 2002 at a White House Correspondent's Dinner after party and asked how she liked being a newborn celebrity. "I love it," she said with a big smile, "but I just wish it had happened when I was younger."

  • 3. Regis Philbin

    Regis was comedian Joey Bishop's sidekick on the ABC television show <em>The Joey Bishop Show</em> from 1967 to 1969 and hosted his own local talk show -- A.M. Los Angeles -- from 1975 to 1983. But his name wasn't exactly on the tip of our collective tongues until he became a daytime staple with Kathie Lee Gifford in 1988 <em>Live with Regis and Kathie Lee</em> when he was 57. His vibrant, caustic, yet fun-loving personality pushed him over the top sometime after the show began to gain in popularity with daytime viewers. <br /> <br /> Hosting the night-time game show, <em>Who Wants to be a Millionaire</em> in 1999, catapulted him up to superstar status because of the show's initial popularity ("Is that your final answer?" became the catch phrase of the early aughts). <a href="" target="_hplive">Philbin left Live in 2011 because of contractual issues</a>. But who knows where the 80-year-old entertainer might show up again? Why isn't he sitting next to David Letterman every night as <em>his</em> sidekick? Just sayin'...

  • 4. Frances Bavier

    Frances Bavier appeared in vaudeville, later transitioned to the Broadway stage and appeared in more than a dozen films. But it wasn't until she claimed the coveted role of everybody's favorite "Aunt Bee" on <em>The Andy Griffith Show</em> in 1960 that she became a household name at the tender age of 58. <br /> <br />Bavier continued the role through 1970 and retired from acting in 1974, moving to North Carolina. She succumbed to heart disease and cancer on December 6, 1989. The actress was buried in Siler City, NC. <a href="" target="_hplink">Her headstone references her Mayberry name and reads</a>: "To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die." <br /> <br />(Here is a rare interview that Carolina Camera Reporter Bill Ballard got with Francis Bavier after she retired to North Carolina.)

  • 5. Abe Vigoda

    Abe Vigoda captured the role of Salvatore Tessio in the film <em>The Godfather</em> in 1972 at the age of 51. His next big role came in 1975 when he signed on to play Sgt. Phil Fish on the television series <em>Barney Miller</em>. Strangely enough, <a href="" target="_hplink">false reports of his death</a> made him a household name. In 1982, <em>People</em> magazine referred to Vigoda as "the late" Abe Vigoda, even though he was performing in a stage play in Calgary. Being a great sport, he laughed off the error. <br /> <br />Vigoda was "dead" again in 1987 when a reporter for a television station in New Jersey referred to him as "the late Abe Vigoda." She corrected her mistake the following day. As a result, there have been many running gags about his death including skits and appearances on <em>Late Show with David Letterman</em>, <em>Late Night with Conan O'Brien</em>, and even on <em>The Today Show</em>. Vigoda joined Betty White in the Super Bowl XLIV Snickers commercial in 2010, although he didn't get as much attention for his efforts. In case you're wondering, as we post this piece, the 91-year-old actor is still alive! ... Or, is he?

  • 6. William Frawley

    Can you imagine getting your big break at the age of 64? Even though this screen and television actor appeared in over 100 films, it wasn't until he played the feisty landlord Fred Mertz on the television sitcom <em>I Love Lucy</em> that he achieved his greatest fame. <br /> <br />This motion picture veteran almost didn't get the part due to his <a href="" target="_hplink">rumored drinking problem</a>. Although Lucille Ball was initially willing to hire him, Dezi Arnaz was less impressed and gave Frawley a stern warning that if he were late to work, arrived drunk or was unable to perform because of anything other than a legitimate reason, he would be written out of the show. That never happened, and Arnaz became one of Frawley's few close friends. Frawley died of a heart attack on March 3, 1966 at the age of 79. <br /> <br /> Here's Frawley in a cameo on <em>The Lucy Show</em>.

  • 7. Tom Bergeron

    I know. This one is a real stretch, but let me make my case. Bergeron has hosted <em>America's Funniest Home Videos</em> since 2001 and <em>Hollywood Squares</em> from 1998 to 2004, but those TV shows were career builders. Now, he's what we might call an A-List celebrity, jumping up a couple of notches since the popularity of ABC's <em>Dancing With the Stars</em>. The hot host was 50 when <em>DWTS</em> premiered in 2005. He's charming, handsome, humorous and just oh so appealing. He's a keeper. Long live his career!

  • 8. Mike Wallace

    Maybe Mike Wallace was well-known in some hard-core news circles, and perhaps he was on a first-name basis with a few news junkies many moons ago, but it wasn't until he laid his groundwork as a superb <em>gotcha</em> reporter on <em>60 Minutes</em> -- which he did from 1968 (after he turned 50) until 2008 -- that his star began to shine. <br /> <br />Wallce was a force to be reckoned with, pushing him into the high-profile-household-name category. This affable news bulldog had a way with words. If Mike Wallace came calling, his subjects tended to want to run out the back door. This well-respected news journalist sadly passed away on April 7, 2012 at the age of 93.

  • 9. Andy Rooney

    Andy Rooney is another personality that seems to have been around since the beginning of time, and we're all glad to have been the recipients of his off-the-wall satirical takes on human nature, and occasionally educating us on used cars and what to do with annoying relatives. <br /> <br />In 1978, at the age of 59, Rooney began his "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" segment on the CBS news show <em>60 Minutes</em>, continuing through 2011. He made us laugh, he made us cry, he made us think. It doesn't get better than that. Rooney died on November 4, 2011 at the age of 92 only a few weeks after his last appearance on <em>60 Minutes</em>.

  • 10. Morgan Freeman

    Who doesn't love Morgan Freeman? This Academy Award winner (for <em>Million Dollar Baby</em>) paid his dues and then some. Freeman worked for several years as an actor, and then came into his own playing chauffeur Hoke Colburn in <em>Driving Miss Daisy</em> at the age of 52 (although he was 50 when he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the film <em>Street Smart</em>).<br /> <br />His film career continued on the fast tract as he starred in many other films, including <em>The Shawshank Redemption</em>,<em> Glory</em>,<em> Deep Impact</em>, <em>The Bucket List</em> and <em>March of the Penguins</em>, resulting in a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 from the American Film Institute.

  • 11. Joy Behar

    Uh, oh. Joy Behar does not like dwelling on her age so I'm not going to mention how old she is. Behar was 54 when she was cast as one of the original members of <em>The View</em>, which made its debut in August 1997. (There will be a math quiz later.) A few years before that, you could catch Behar doing hilarious stand-up comedy on television. She became a household name sometime after <em>The View</em> became a must-see, daytime television talk show.

  • 12. Uggie The Dog

    This Jack Russel Terrier was in the movies <em>Mr. Fix It</em> and <em>Water for Elephants</em>, but he wasn't a household name until he appeared in the much heralded silent movie <em>The Artist </em>in 2011. The Uggster was nine when he starred in <em>The Artist</em> -- <a href="" target="_hplink">that's 52 years old in doggie years</a>. <br /> <br />What did he do before he got his big break in Hollywood? He was about to be sent to a dog pound, but was rescued by an animal trainer. Let's hope that Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Toto and Benji don't get their noses out of joint looking for bones up in Heaven. I have no idea how old they were when they starred in their movies and television shows. Uggie has a good publicist.