The 8 Oldest Performers to Win a Tony Award

Lists   The 8 Oldest Performers to Win a Tony Award
The definitive list of the oldest performers to win in each acting category.

Previously, Playbill compiled the list of the youngest-ever performers to make Tony history. This week we flip the script to look at some actors who won Tony Awards late in their careers. In a world that is too often youth-obsessed, it’s important to remember moments the community recognized performances from legends of the theatre, all of whom won their awards for performances that came after years of honing their craft to perfection.

Here we examine the accomplishments of the veterans of the stage and the ages at which they made history as the oldest to win their Tony category.

Cicely Tyson ATW Gala 41 HR.jpg
Cicely Tyson Joseph Marzullo/WENN

1. Cicely Tyson, 88
Cicely Tyson was a living acting legend when she returned to Broadway in the 2013 revival of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful, her first Main Stem performance in three decades. She had already earned three Emmy Awards—the first two for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman in 1974 and the third for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All in 1994—but it was her performances as Mrs. Carrie Watts opposite Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Vanessa Williams that won Tyson her first Tony nomination and win, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. She was 88 years old when she accepted the award, which makes her not only the oldest to win in that category, but the oldest actor to win in any of the Tony acting categories.

Angela Lansbury
Angela Lansbury Monica Simoes

2. Angela Lansbury, 83 years
When it comes to Tony Awards royalty, Angela Lansbury quickly rises to the top of the list. When Audra McDonald made history with her sixth Tony win in 2014, it was Lansbury’s record of five she beat. Between 1966–1979, Lansbury won four Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Tony Awards—for Mame, Dear World, Gypsy, and Sweeney Todd—and then won Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play in 2009 for her performance in Blithe Spirit. When Lansbury won that last award, she was 83 years old, making her the oldest to win in that category.

Frank Langella Joseph Marzullo/WENN

3. Frank Langella, 78 years
Speaking of performers with distinguished Tony track records, Frank Langella has won an incredible four awards over his distinguished career. His first nomination and win was as Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play in 1975 for Edward Albee’s Seascape, with another win in the same category in 2002 for his performance in Fortune’s Fool. Langella graduated to Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play in 2007, winning the Tony for his performance in the latter title role of Frost/Nixon. Langella became the oldest actor to win in that category when he took it again in 2016 for his performance in The Father.

Roy Dotrice
Roy Dotrice

4. Roy Dotrice, 77 years
You might know this British actor from the 1984 film adaptation of Amadeus—he plays Mozart’s father, Leopold—or from his performance as Wisdom Hallyne the Pyromancer on TV’s Game of Thrones, but he also had a long Broadway career. He appeared in such plays as Brief Lives, Mister Lincoln, A Life, and Hay Fever. Dotrice capped off his Broadway appearances with a performance in the 2000 revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten, playing Phil Hogan to Cherry Jones’ Josie Hogan. When he won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play, Dotrice was 77 years old and became the oldest ever to win in that category.

HR - Mary Louise Wilson.jpeg
Mary Louise Wilson

5. Mary Louise Wilson, 75 years
This Broadway favorite has worked steadily on Broadway since her debut in 1963’s Hot Spot, appearing in Promises, Promises, The Women, Gypsy, The Royal Family, The Philadelphia Story, and The Odd Couple, among otheres. After focusing on TV and film work in the ’80s and ’90s, Wilson returned to Broadway in 1998, originating Fraulein Schneider in the long-running revival of Cabaret. She received her first Tony nomination for that role; but it was her performance as Big Edie Beale in the 2006 musical Grey Gardens that won Wilson her Tony Award, for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. Wilson was 75 years old when she accepted the award, making her the oldest to win in that category.

Dick Latessa
Dick Latessa Joseph Marzullo/WENN

6. Dick Latessa, 73 years
From the time he made his Broadway debut in 1968’s The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N until his death in 2016, Dick Latessa was a mainstay on the Great White Way. Of his 18 Broadway credits, he appeared in the original productions of Follies, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Broadway Bound, Rumors, and The Will Rogers Follies, along with revivals of Damn Yankees, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Promises, Promises. Perhaps his most iconic Broadway performance was as Wilbur Turnblad—father to Tracy and husband to Edna—in the 2002 musical Hairspray. His performance earned Latessa his sole career Tony nomination and win, for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. He made the history books for the oldest actor to win in that category—73 years old at the 2003 Tony Awards ceremony.

Bette Midler
Bette Midler Joseph Marzullo/WENN

7. Bette Midler, 71 years
Bette Midler’s theatrical flair and brassy singing voice have made her an honorary musical theatre icon, though, until recently, her Broadway appearances included only her replacement as Tzeitel during the original run of Fiddler on the Roof at the beginning of her career and a few concert engagements and a limited engagement play. Midler made her name as a concert performer and movie star, though she sang in movies like Beaches and Gypsy. Midler’s return to Broadway in the 2017 revival of Hello, Dolly!—her first stage musical since Fiddler—was a major event. Midler won the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical last year at the age of 71, the oldest ever to take home that award.

Bert Lahr
Bert Lahr

8. Bert Lahr, 68 years
This actor, comedian, and vaudevillian will forever be remembered as The Cowardly Lion in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz, but Bert Lahr had a long Broadway career before and after his defining film performance. His most notable non-Oz performance is the role of Estragon in the original production of Samuel Beckett’s now-classic Waiting for Godot. Yet, his final Broadway appearance as the title role in 1964’s Foxy won Lahr his Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. Lahr was 68 when he won the award, making him the oldest to win in that category—a distinction he still holds today.

Logan Culwell-Block is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research, and curator of Playbill Vault. @loganculwell

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