The United States is not known for respecting its elderly, who are often overlooked, perceived as lacking the value of the young who are still likely to be in the workforce. Yet, some of the country’s oldest living citizens are, and continue to be, among the most influential Americans.
24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of American citizens who are at least 80 years old — living legends, whose contributions have had a permanent effect on our society. Many of these Americans, despite being over 80 years old, continue to go to work every day. Some have worked at the top of their industries for over half a century. Others are retired, but their work continues to have a lasting impact on every aspect of American life.
Businesspeople, entertainers and artists, politicians and government officials, scientists and academics, authors, and athletes are all well-represented among the 80 Most Influential Americans Over 80.
It is not always clear what achievements will stand the test of time. The effect of recent accomplishments lauded as truly great may fade in coming decades. For many of the people on the 80 Most Influential Americans Over 80 list, their work was done over the greater part of their lifetimes. Without exception, each of these individuals have had an unquestionable contribution to society.
Most of the people on this list will go down in history, with life works that have redefined their fields, often to the point that their influence spills into other aspects of society. The level of influence of a person’s life work often needs to be evaluated in the context of his or her profession. For instance, some of the “80 over 80” are film stars or athletes, whose fame, visibility and reach — by the nature of their profession — dwarfs that of academics and artists. However, the influence celebrities have may seem to pale when measured against the influence of a Supreme Court justice, president, or great inventor.
While some of the individuals on this list have retired, many are still producing work, speaking publicly, and otherwise shaping a new generation of talent in their field. Chuck Berry, one of the pioneers of rock and roll, is set to put out another album. Noam Chomsky, one of the most cited intellectuals of all time, is still writing books. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still making judicial decisions that will impact every living American and those yet to be born.
It is immediately clear that men dominate the list. Just 11 of the 80 most influential Americans are women. This unfortunate lack of diversity is a byproduct of how, outside of a few occupations for much of the 20th century, it was unheard of for women to wield significant influence. These women were born less than two decades after their gender gained the right to vote. Most of the women that made our list had to overcome oppressive disadvantages to earn the respect they deserved in their fields.
The opportunities for non-white men to wield tremendous influence, especially for most of the 20th century, was very limited. While African Americans, for example, are well represented among the entertainers on this list, they are not especially common among the most influential living government officials or business leaders over 80.
These are the most influential Americans over 80 — in no particular order.
1. Rupert Murdoch, 85
> Profession: Media mogul
Billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his family are controlling shareholders of 21st Century Fox and News Corp. The two conglomerates control dozens of television, film, and production companies operate in the U.S. and around the world. Fox, National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal, and MarketWatch, for example, are all operated under Murdoch’s leadership.
2. John Madden, 80
> Profession: NFL coach and sports broadcaster
Pro Football Hall of Famer John Madden was head coach of the Oakland Raiders in the 1960s and 1970s. He led the team to a number of successful seasons, including a Super Bowl win. After retirement, a select few sports superstars manage to capitalize on their fame to pursue careers in film, television, and often, sports broadcasting. Arguably none have done so as successfully as Madden. After retiring upon the conclusion of the 1978 season, Madden became one of the most popular football broadcasters, starred in a number of commercials, and became the face of a wildly popular video game franchise that continues to bear his name long after his retirement from television.
3. Henry Kissinger, 93
> Profession: Political scientist and diplomat
Henry Kissinger served as Secretary of State from September 1973 until January 1977. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his involvement in negotiations during the Vietnam War. He then served on various U.S. government national security and defense commissions, councils, and boards through the turn of the century. Kissinger is a polarizing figure, and has many have criticized his involvement in international affairs, with some even suggesting he should be considered a war criminal. Kissinger is currently chairman of the international consulting firm Kissinger Associates, Inc.
4. Alan Greenspan, 90
> Profession: Chairman of the Federal Reserve
Ronald Reagan appointed Alan Greenspan chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in 1987. Greenspan served in the position until 2006. As chairman, Greenspan wielded enormous influence over U.S. monetary policy and the U.S. economy. He has been praised for his advisory roles under various presidents, and has also been criticized for his perceived responsibility for the dot-com bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis.
5. Robert Redford, 80
> Profession: Actor and director
One of the most enduring actors of all time, Redford starred in a number of classics, including “The Sting,” “All the President’s Men,” “Out of Africa,” and “Butch Cassidy the Sundance Kid.” Over his lengthy career as an actor and director, Redford has won and has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Academy Award for best director for the 1980 film “Ordinary People.”
6. Sidney Poitier, 89
> Profession: Actor, director, author, and diplomat
One of Hollywood’s dominant forces in the second half of the 20th century, Sidney Poitier has acted in more than 50 feature films and directed nine. In 1964, Poitier became the first African American to win an Academy Award for best actor. Today, he is the oldest living actor to have won the award. Poitier’s films frequently addressed complex racial issues of the day, and in 2009 the cultural icon earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country.
7. Sonny Rollins, 86
> Profession: Jazz saxophonist
Tenor saxophonist Theodore Walter Rollins, known as Sonny Rollins, is one of the greatest living jazz artists. Playing and recording since the late 1940’s, Rollins has made timeless contributions to the genres of bebop and hard bop. While Rollins certainly experimented with his music, he could also be very accessible, and is said to have helped move jazz into the mainstream. Rollins released his most recent recording, “Sonny, Please,” in 2006, close to 70 years after his first recording.
8. Noam Chomsky, 87
> Profession: Writer and academic
As a linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Noam Chomsky refuted the prevailing view of language acquisition and helped lay the groundwork for the modern study of linguistics. Chomsky has authored roughly 120 books on topics that include linguistics, U.S. foreign policy, international politics, and media, and is one of the most cited academics of all time.
9. John Clifton “Jack” Bogle, 87
> Profession: Investor and CEO
John Clifton Bogle founded the Vanguard Group in 1974, today one of the world’s largest mutual fund companies. Bogle’s influence in the investing world extends beyond his success and wealth. Bogle helped popularize investment, making market investments more accessible through no-load mutual funds and index funds. In 1999, he wrote “Common Sense on Mutual Funds: New Imperatives for the Intelligent Investor,” which to this day is considered required reading by many investors.
10. Stan Lee, 93
> Profession: Comic book creator
Stan Lee is responsible for creating some of the most well known superheroes in pop culture. With characters like Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the X-Men, Stan Lee introduced flawed humanity into the superhero archetype and helped define the modern comic book and establish its popularity across the globe. As the public figurehead of Marvel Comics, Lee also helped grow the once small publishing division into a global media conglomerate. A number of superhero films based on characters Lee helped create have dominated the box office since the early 2000’s.
11. Gordon Moore, 87
> Profession: Electrical engineer and founder of Intel
Gordon Moore founded Intel in 1968 and has helped grow the company into the largest semiconductor manufacturer today. Through decades of innovation at the vanguard of semiconductor technology, Moore and Intel have managed to fulfill the tenets of Moore’s Law — the forecast that chip performance will double every two years.
12. Gene Hackman, 86
> Profession: Actor
Actor Gene Hackman has starred in more than 60 movies, many of which were box office hits. He is perhaps best known for his roles in “Enemy of the State,” “The Firm,” “Superman,” and “The Birdcage,” among many others. Each of these grossed over $100 million domestically. Hackman retired from acting at age 78. Hackman won an Oscar for his leading role in the 1972 film “The French Connection” and again, two decades later, for his supporting role in “Unforgiven.”
13. Ralph Nader, 82
> Profession: Activist and politician
In the 1960s, consumer advocate Ralph Nader devoted himself to criticizing the safety standards of the auto and food industries. Nader’s testimonies to Congress and advocacy work led to seatbelt laws, slaughterhouse regulations, and numerous other regulations. Most notably, his book “Unsafe at any Speed” about the 1965 Chevrolet Corvair set a precedent for government regulation of auto safety standards. Building on his reputation for public advocacy, Nader ran for president four times. Though Nader himself contests the theory, many believe his Green party run in 2000 siphoned votes from Democrat Al Gore and ultimately led to the election of George W. Bush.
14. Hank Aaron, 82
> Profession: Baseball player
Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron spent 23 seasons in the Major League Baseball between 1954 and 1976, spending the largest part of his career with Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. Over that time, Aaron won Rookie of the Year, played in 21 straight All-Star Games, won three Gold Gloves, broke Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record, and set records in total bases, extra-base hits, and RBIs, all of which, with the exception of the home run record, Aaron still holds.
15. Dianne Feinstein, 83
> Profession: Senator
Dianne Feinstein was elected to the U.S. Senate by California voters in 1992. Though she may be a polarizing figure politically, her accomplishments and influence are undeniable. She was the first female senator in U.S. history to oversee all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Her list of accomplishments in the U.S. Senate span a range of issues including national security, the environment, and health. Among several other awards recognizing her achievements, Feinstein earned the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service in 2001.
16. Bill Russell, 82
> Profession: Basketball player
Many people will talk about Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time, but in terms of championship wins, Jordan doesn’t even come close to former Celtics star Bill Russell. One of the most dominant teams in the history of professional professional sports, the Celtics won 11 NBA championships from 1957 through 1969, and Russell helped the team earn every one of those victories. Towards the end of his career, Russell succeeded Celtics coach Red Auerbach, becoming the first African-American head coach of any major North American sports team.
17. Jasper Johns, 86
> Profession: Painter, printmaker, and sculptor
As a painter, printmaker, and sculptor, Jasper Johns helped to define the Abstract Expressionist style and set the precedent for the modern Pop art aesthetic. Through a career spanning more than half a century, Johns has influenced a vast array of American artistic movements, and his work is represented in nearly every major art museum.
18. Kenneth Arrow, 95
> Profession: Economist, writer, and professor
For his contribution to the fields of general equilibrium theory and welfare economics, economist Kenneth Arrow was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics with John Hicks in 1972. Just 51 years old at the time, Arrow remains the youngest economist to ever win the Nobel Prize. Arrow is generally credited for formulating the foundation of modern social choice theory, and has also taught five students who have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.
19. Chuck Berry, 90
> Profession: Rock & roll musician
Singer and guitarist Chuck Berry has influenced music in a way few people, living or dead, have. Credited by many as the father of rock & roll, Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and “Maybelline” jumpstarted a generation of musicians. According to some, without Berry’s music, groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys might never have existed. Berry pioneered a number of now-ubiquitous techniques, including the standard 4/4 rock & roll beat. Soon to celebrate his 90th birthday, Berry will be releasing his first album in four decades, called “Chuck.”
20. Bobby Seale, 80
> Profession: Political activist
Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. Bobby Seale co-founded the revolutionary party Black Panthers for Self-Defense shortly after. According to the FBI, the party advocated the use of violence and is still classified as an extremist organization. Originally, the party was intended to organize patrols of African American neighborhoods aimed to defend residents against police brutality. Through one of the many other social programs organized by the group, Seale and the Panthers also pioneered free breakfast programs. By the end of 1969 the program provided free meals to 20,000 children in nearly 20 cities nationwide. Most of the Panthers’ community programs were brutally repressed by the U.S. government. Seale is still active as an advocate for racial equality.
21. John McCain, 80
> Profession: Senator
After a distinguished, decades-long career in the Navy, which included more than half a decade as a Vietnamese prisoner of war, John McCain entered politics. He began serving as a congressman in 1983 and was elected to the Senate in 1986. McCain ran for president in 2008 and lost in a closely contested race to Barack Obama. McCain still represents Arizona on Capitol Hill and currently serves as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
22. Hugh Hefner, 90
> Profession: Adult magazine publisher
Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy magazine in 1953. The subversive brand quickly turned mainstream, and helped shape consumer desires, gender roles, and American culture throughout the second half of the 20th century.
23. Billy Graham, 97
> Profession: Preacher
Billy Graham preached in 185 nations and was seen in person by hundreds of millions of people. Graham was also spiritual advisor to several presidents. He helped introduce Martin Luther King, Jr. at one of his annual televised “crusades,” and bailed King out of jail when he was arrested during a civil rights protest.
24. Harold Bloom (86)
> Profession: Literary critic and professor
For more than sixty years, Harold Bloom has helped shape modern literary criticism in the U.S. Working at a prolific pace throughout his career, Bloom has published hundreds of works of criticism, at one point producing 15 a month. Through his 1994 book “Western Canon” and his support of the “Great Books” literary program in the late 1980s, Bloom has also influenced liberal arts curricula in universities across the country.
25. Sanford “Sandy” Koufax, 80
> Profession: Athlete
Sandy Koufax is considered one of the greatest left handed pitchers in baseball history. He is the youngest player to ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He won numerous awards, including three Cy Young Awards and National League pitcher Triple Crowns. Koufax, who is Jewish, famously refused to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.
26. Chuck Yeager, 93
> Profession: Air Force pilot
Flying more than 60 missions as a fighter pilot in World War II, Chuck Yeager’s career began with distinguished service. He is most famous, however, for his accomplishments after the war. As a test pilot, in 1947 Yeager became the first person in history to break the sound barrier, flying a Bell X-1 rocket at a speed of 700 mph. Before retiring from the U.S. Air Force, he served as the vice commander of the 17th Air Force in Germany and was later named the U.S. defense representative in Pakistan. He was also instrumental in training the earliest American astronauts and was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973. More than a decade later, Yaeger received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
27. Mildred Dresselhaus, 86
> Profession: Physicist
Mildred Dresselhaus is one of the most accomplished scientists in the U.S. Dubbed “The Queen of Carbon Science,” her groundbreaking work studying the atomic properties of carbon advanced her field considerably and ultimately lead to major advances in consumer electronics. She became the first tenured female professor to teach in the California Institute of Techonolgy’s engineering department. In 2014, Dresselhaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor awarded by the government.
28. Frank Stella, 80
> Profession: Painter and printmaker
Frank Stella has been described as one of the most important living artists. Stella found success at an early age, becoming the youngest artist to ever have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art when he was 33. By moving beyond the Abstract Expressionism of his contemporaries, Stella paved the way for the Minimalist aesthetic and the many artists who have followed him. Stella continues to evolve as an artist today, shaping American art history along the way.
29. Jimmy Carter, 92
> Profession: 39th President of the United States
Jimmy Carter served from 1977 to 1981 as the 39th president of the United States. While he only served a single term, his time as president can be defined by his belief in peace and human rights, the same beliefs that have guided his life as ex-president. Since he left the White House, he has started a not for profit, dedicated to its mission to end human suffering and has personally built houses for the homeless, fought to eradicate diseases in Africa, and promoted democracy and world peace. In 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication to peace, human rights, and economic development.
30. Robert Duvall, 85
> Profession: Actor
Few American actors, living or dead, are as highly regarded as Robert Duvall. Over his career, which spans more than half a century, he has played some of the most memorable roles in American cinema. His body of work includes Academy Award-nominated supporting roles in “The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now,” and “A Civil Action.” He won an Oscar for his leading role in the 1983 film “Tender Mercies” and was awarded a National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush in 2005.
31. Katherine Johnson, 98
> Profession: NASA physicist
Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson is best known for her work at NASA and her considerable contributions to aeronautics. She calculated the trajectory for the first U.S. mission into space, and less than a decade later worked out the calculations for the first moon landing. In 2015, she was awarded the country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
32. Quincy Jones, 83
> Profession: Musician, composer, and producer
Few Americans have had a hand in the work of more musicians than Quincy Jones. Since he began his career as a trumpetist, eventually becoming a record executive and producer, Jones has recorded, composed, or arranged records in jazz, pop, soul, R&B, hip hop, and more. Jones has also written books, produced movies, and composed music for 33 films. Over the course of his career, Jones has won 27 Grammys, the second most of any artist in history. Jones has worked with Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Lesley Gore, and many, many others.
33. Little Richard, 83
> Profession: Musician
One of the figures responsible for the development of modern rock and roll, Little Richard has remained an influential force in popular American music since the 1950s. Richard has released more than 20 albums, and, along with Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and others, was one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
34. Clint Eastwood, 86
> Profession: Actor and director
Winner of two Academy Awards for Best Picture and two more as a director, Clint Eastwood began his career with a number of small roles in the mid-1950’s. He went on to star in such classics as “Dirty Harry,” “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” “Pale Rider,” and “Unforgiven.” He also wrote the music for several of his films. Sully, his most recent work as a director, stars Tom Hanks and opened No.1 at the box office.
35. Steven Weinberg, 83
> Profession: Theoretical physicist, writer, and professor
In 1979, Steven Weinberg, along with two fellow scientists, was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution “to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles.” In addition to his research, Weinberg has written a number of articles for the New York Review of Books as well as several popular works of nonfiction. Weinberg was also awarded in 1999 the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science, which recognizes “the scientist as poet.”
36. Tom Wolfe, 85
> Profession: Author and journalist
Through a string of popular articles and best-selling books that include “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” “The Right Stuff,” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe has managed to remain at the vanguard of American journalism for over six decades. By employing figurative language and emphasizing a subjective point of view, Wolfe laid the stylistic foundation for the literary approach to reporting known as New Journalism. While New Journalism, as a collective phenomenon, ended in the 1980s, Wolfe continues to work as a popular essayist, journalist, and author today.
37. Jim Brown, 80
> Profession: Professional football player
Named by the Sporting News as the greatest football player in history, Jim Brown has held records for ‘the most rushing yards in a single season season, the most career rushing yards and total rushing touchdowns, despite playing in four 12-game seasons, and five 14-game seasons. He has been active in supporting the rights of black players, inner city residents, and prisoners.
38. David McCullough, 83
> Profession: Biographer
David McCullough is perhaps the most acclaimed and widely read biographer and historian in the country. Known for his historical narratives, McCullough has written Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies on Harry S. Truman and John Adams, as well as accounts of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal. McCullough’s most recent book, published in 2015, is a definitive biography of the Wright Brothers. In 2006, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.
39. George Soros, 86
> Profession: Hedge fund manager and philanthropist
As the founder of Soros Fund Management, billionaire investor George Soros has exerted nearly unmatched influence over the financial market for over four decades. Soros funded many of the democratic efforts that helped Eastern Europe transition from communism to capitalism in the 1980s, and has given billions more to pro-democracy groups around the world. Soros is one of the largest donors to the Democratic Party, and is the 25th richest person in the world.
40. James Watson, 88
> Profession: Scientist and author
In 1953, scientists James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA. The discovery shed light on how genetic information is passed from generation to generation. The double helix was one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century, and allowed for subsequent revolutions in medicine, disease diagnosis, forensic science, and agriculture, as well as insights into human history. For their work, Watson and Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962.
41. Paul Taylor, 86
> Profession: Dancer and choreographer
Paul Taylor founded the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1954. The company has become one of the most prolific and respected dance troupes in the world, elevating Taylor to the status of cultural icon. Taylor’s choreography is widely considered foundational to American modern dance. After 60 years as director of his dance company, Taylor founded Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance in 2014, an initiative to promote modern dance at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
42. John Searle, 84
> Profession: Philosopher
In 2004, then President George W. Bush awarded philosopher John Searle the National Humanities Medal “for his efforts to deepen understanding of the human mind.” Searle has been awarded dozens of other accolades. He is perhaps most famous for his Chinese room thought experiment, which highlights the distinction between true understanding and the simulation of understanding. His work has heavily influenced artificial intelligence research.
43. Carl Icahn, 80
> Profession: Investor
One of the most successful investors of all time, Carl Icahn is worth an estimated $15.7 billion. Icahn began his corporate raids in the 1970s, buying large shares of publicly held companies in order to use shareholder voting privilege to direct business activities towards increasing share value over other corporate priorities. The “Icahn Lift,” refers to the uptick in stock price that occurs when Icahn begins to purchase shares of a company, so named after Ican’s prolific track record.
44. Willie Mays, 85
> Profession: Baseball player
Easily one of the greatest baseball players — if not greatest athletes — of all time, Willie Mays played for the Giants for nearly all of his 22-year career. ESPN rated Mays as the second best baseball player in history, behind Babe Ruth. As a player, he was known for excelling at every aspect of the game — hitting, running, catching, and throwing. Known as the “Say Hey Kid” because of his magnetic and approachable personality, Mays played in 20 all-star games, behind only fellow 80-over-80 member Hank Aaron, who played in 21.
45. Warren Buffett, 86
> Profession: CEO Berkshire Hathaway
Nicknamed the “Oracle of Omaha,” Warren Buffett has often been described as the greatest investor in American history. Buffett is the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company that owns several large private companies, including Duracell, and Geico Auto Insurance. Buffett’s firm is also a major investor in some of U.S.’s largest public companies. Berkshire has a 10% stake or more in Kraft Heinz Co, American Express Company, and Phillips 66, to name a few.
46. Jack Welch, 80
> Profession: CEO of General Electric
Jack Welch began his career at General Electric as a chemical engineer. Working his way up, he was named CEO of the company in 1981. During his two-decade tenure at the head of the company, Welch streamlined operations and acquired new businesses, ultimately transforming GE from a $13 billion company to one worth several hundred billion. Fortune named him “Manager of the Century” in 1999. Welch remains one of the most respected and admired business leaders.
47. Martin Cooper, 87
> Profession: Inventor
Widely considered the “father of the cellphone,” Marty Cooper was also the first man to use one in public in 1973. His invention completely changed the world of telecommunications and eventually led to the widespread use of smartphones and other wireless devices.
48. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83
> Profession: U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Before being appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School. As a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg famously wrote a dissenting opinion in the court’s decision in Bush v. Gore and was instrumental in upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
49. Charles Koch, 80
> Profession: Businessman and philanthropist
Charles Koch is the CEO of energy conglomerate Koch Industries, one of the largest private companies in the world. The Koch family is known for its contributions to conservative political causes. In addition to campaign contributions, Charles has founded various nonprofit organizations and think tanks, including the Cato Institute.
50. Gloria Steinem, 82
> Profession: Feminist and journalist
Since the 1960s, Gloria Steinem has been an outspoken figurehead for women’s issues. The founder of Ms. magazine, Steinem is also the author of multiple bestsellers, as well as columns for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and other publications. As a critic of contemporary politics, and a living example of second-wave feminist principles, Steinem has achieved an iconic status that continues to ensure her popularity and influence today.
51. Woody Allen, 80
> Profession: Actor, comedian, writer, and director
Over a span of five decades, Woody Allen has written and directed nearly 50 feature films, and acted in even more. Allen’s body of work has garnered three Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Director, and grossed nearly $600 million domestically. Before transitioning to a prolific film career, Allen was a successful stand-up comedian, television writer, and writer of humorous prose. Despite controversies in his personal life, Allen continues to work and remains popular with audiences.
52. Cormac McCarthy, 83
> Profession: Novelist
Cormac McCarthy is the author of “The Road,” “All the Pretty Horses,” “No Country for Old Men,” and many other titles. “The Road” received the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2007. McCarthy was also awarded the MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grants, and a PEN/Saul Bellow lifetime achievement award. Several of his novels have been adapted into films.
53. John Baldessari, 85
> Profession: Conceptual artist
John Baldessari is a painter and photographer renowned for pushing the boundaries of contemporary art. For example, he was among the first to use text as a vehicle for artistic expression. He was also known for his use of humor. In one of his more famous pieces titled Cremation Project, Baldessari burned the majority of his paintings produced between 1953 and 1966 in what was described as a creative act of destruction. Baldessari currently teaches at the California Institute of the Arts.
54. Toni Morrison (86)
> Profession: Writer, professor
Writer Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. The committee wrote that Morrison, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Morrison authored literary classics including “Beloved,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. She is currently the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emerita at Princeton University.
55. I.M. Pei (99)
> Profession: Architect
As the lead architect behind such international treasures as the National Gallery East Building and the L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC, the Louvre pyramid in Paris, and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, I.M. Pei is considered the first non-Westerner to achieve worldwide success in the architectural profession. Pei was born in China, but became a naturalized American citizen in 1954.
56. Robert Evans, 86
> Profession: Film producer and studio executive
As producer and studio head behind a string of hits that include “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown,” and “The Godfather,” Robert Evans lifted Paramount Pictures from financial turmoil and helped usher in a new generation of filmmakers collectively known today as the New Hollywood. Through an illustrious career described in his aptly titled memoir “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” Evans has managed to remain an influential force in Hollywood for over five decades.
57. Sheldon Adelson, 83
> Profession: Businessman, philanthropist, and political donor
Like a number of other individuals on this list, Sheldon Adelson is worth billions of dollars — a fortune amassed from owning Las Vegas Sands Corp. More importantly, however, Adelson is the largest individual donor to Republican political campaigns. In 2012, Adelson contributed $93.1 million to Republican and conservative politicians, far and away the largest contribution. He has donated much less this year — just $46.5 million — but still among the most of any American.
58. Tony Bennett, 90
> Profession: Singer
Tony Bennett recorded his first No. 1 single in 1951. Today, Bennett has sold over 50 million records worldwide and won 15 Grammy Awards. By sticking to the traditional pop standards he reveres, Bennett has been able to bridge a generation gap and introduce a younger generation to the Great American Songbook. Bennett has enjoyed continued popularity throughout his career and become the oldest living artist to ever top the Billboard charts.
59. Doris Day, 94
> Profession: Singer, actress, and activist
In a career spanning over six decades and three professions, Doris Day has achieved worldwide acclaim as a singer, actress, and activist. Day recorded her first No. 1 hit in 1945, and has since released dozens of charting songs, acted in over 30 feature films, and founded two animal welfare nonprofits. Doris Day received a Golden Globe Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1989, a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
60. Don Rickles, 90
> Profession: Stand-up comedian and actor
Nicknamed “Mr. Warmth,” stand-up comedian Don Rickles has enjoyed a long and successful career that has spanned theaters, late night television, and feature films. Rickles developed a style of rapid-fire insult comedy that influenced many of the most popular comedians today. At 90 years old, he continues to entertain audiences in venues around the country.
61. Betty White, 94
> Profession: Actor, comedian
Betty White is one of the most prolific actors and television personalities in U.S. history. Over the course of her career, which began more than half a century ago, she has won five Primetime Emmy Awards, including her most recent win for her performance as a guest on Saturday Night Live in 2010. In 2013, White was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest TV career of any woman in her profession.
62. Larry King, 82
> Profession:Talk show host
Larry King Live was the first international TV call-in show. At its peak it was the highest-rated talk show on the air. It ran for 25 years. Recently, King joined the Russian television network RT (Russia Today). He has two shows currently on the air, “Larry King Now” and “Politicking with Larry King.”
63. Charles Kuen Kao, 83
> Profession: Physicist
Charles Kuen Kao is widely known as the father of fiber optic communications. Vast quantities of data today are transmitted across the U.S. and around the world through fiber infrastructure. These conduits would not be possible without Kao’s research in the 1960s into glass as a conductor. Kao and two other scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009.
64. Donald Rumsfeld, 84
> Profession: Secretary of Defense
After serving as an Illinois Congressman, Donald Rumsfeld has held a number of high profile appointed government positions, including President Gerald Ford’s White House Chief of Staff, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and President Ronald Reagan’s Special Ambassador to the Middle East. Most notably, Rumsfeld served as the U.S. Secretary of Defense under Ford and again under President George W. Bush. A politically divisive figure, Rumsfeld is largely viewed to be instrumental in drawing the country into war with Iraq following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Years after it began, he drew criticism for his handling of the war and was ultimately forced to resign as Bush’s Secretary of Defense in 2006.
65. Norman Lear, 94
> Profession: Television writer and producer
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Norman Lear created popular sitcoms such as “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Maude.” By featuring plots centered around controversial social issues and characters navigating complex moral dilemmas, Lear’s work laid the foundation for the modern sitcom. An activist in later life, Lear has also advocated for First Amendment rights and a number of progressive causes.
66. Berry Gordy Jr., 86
> Profession: Record producer
Founded in Detroit in 1959, Motown records was instrumental in bringing black music to white audiences, arguably helping improve race relations. Detroit native Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of the label, helped make artists such as Jackie Wilson, Etta James, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, and many more household names.
67. George H.W. Bush, 92
> Profession: 41st President of the United States
Before being elected president, George H.W. Bush served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He also held a number of high profile political appointments, working as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and later as the Director of the CIA. Bush served only a single term in the Oval Office, but was an effective president by several measures. Though his administration emphasized restraint in foreign policy, he toppled Manuel Noriega’s corrupt regime in Panama and deployed 425,000 U.S. troops in the Middle East, successfully liberating Kuwait from occupying Iraqi forces.
68. Buzz Aldrin, 86
> Profession: Astronaut
Buzz Aldrin is the second person to set foot on the moon. He is one of just seven moonwalkers still living. Aldrin has published nine books, and is the founder of education outreach organization the ShareSpace Foundation. Most recently, in 2015, he started the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute at Florida Tech. The institute promotes space exploration and, specifically, permanent human settlement on Mars.
69. Lee Iacocca, 92
> Profession: Automobile executive
Working as a vice president at Ford Motor Company Lee Iacocca is credited with bringing the Mustang to the market in 1964. After Ford, Iacocca joined Chrysler as CEO during a period of record losses and near bankruptcy Lee Iacocca is credited with saving the automobile manufacturer. By successfully securing a loan guarantee from Congress, introducing the minivan, and spearheading the acquisition of American Motors Corporation, Iacocca eventually led the Chrysler Corporation to an historic $700 million profit by the year he retired. In addition to his executive career, Iacocca is an active philanthropist.
70. Thomas Spencer Monson, 89
> Profession: Religious leader
Thomas Spencer Monson is the current President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an office synonymous with prophet, seer, and revelator in the eyes of followers. The head of the Mormon church is also a lifetime position. Monson was appointed president in 2008. He had previously served in various official roles, particularly in Utah, and has been a member of the National Executive Board of Boy Scouts of America since 1969.
71. John Paul Stevens, 96
> Profession: U.S. Supreme Court Justice
John Paul Stevens was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975 where he served until 2010. Like other justices of the highest court in the country, Stevens supported rulings that likely shaped the course of America’s, if not the world’s, history. Speaking out earlier this year, Stevens criticized the Senate for its ongoing refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court Justice nominee.
72. Willie Nelson, 83
> Profession: Singer songwriter
Over the course of his career, which has spanned more than half a century and continues to this day, Willie Nelson has earned his place among the most iconic and influential figures in American music. Nelson’s body of work has won him countless awards and accolades, including seven Grammys and a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2001. He has also acted in dozens of movies, and, after co-founding the Farm Aid charity concert series, was inducted into the National Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2011.
73. Fredric Jameson, 82
> Profession: Political theorist and professor
Fredric Jameson is widely considered to be one of the most influential and important living literary critics and political theorists. While for some his writings are infamously intricate and dense, his work has shaped the tradition of comparative literature and particularly Marxist literary theory. Jameson received in 2012 the Award for Lifetime Scholarly Achievement from the Modern Language Association, adding to a long list of accolades. He is currently a professor at Duke University.
74. Sandra Day O’Connor, 86
> Profession: U.S. Supreme Court Justice
President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981. She became the first woman ever to serve on the nation’s highest court. Having obtained her qualifications during a time when very few opportunities were available for women, O’Connor’s achievements are especially remarkable. As the deciding vote in several high profile Supreme Court cases, O’Connor’s career has affected countless lives. She cast the deciding vote that upheld Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion right, and another in the Bush v. Gore case, a ruling which resolved the fight over the contested Florida electoral votes.
75. Arno Penzias, 83
> Profession: Astronomer
Astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert W. Wilson accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave background, radiation signals uniformly dispersed in the universe. Cosmic background radiation, together with the much earlier discovery by Edwin Hubble that the universe is expanding, are the strongest support for the Big Bang theory. Penzias and Wilson were awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics for “one of the great astronomical discoveries of all time.”
76. Ursula K. Le Guin, 87
> Profession: Fantasy and science fiction writer
Ursula K. Le Guin is one of very few living authors whose novels have been included in the Library of America, a prestigious vault of U.S. writing usually reserved for authors long deceased. She is the author of “The Word for World is Forest,” “Planet of Exile,” “The Dispossessed,” the acclaimed series of children’s books starting with “A Wizard of Earthsea,” among many other titles. Le Guin has received the National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, among many other accolades.
77. Barbara Walters, 87
> Profession: Journalist and anchor
Barbara Walters was the first woman to co-anchor a network evening news program — ABC in 1979. She is also well known for her work as a journalist and eventually host of the Today Show, where she worked for over a decade. Walters has received numerous awards and accolades, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, seven honorary doctoral degrees, a primetime Emmy Award, and four daytime Emmys.
78. Mel Brooks, 90
> Profession: Actor, comedian, screenwriter, and director
In a career spanning over 60 years, Mel Brooks has achieved worldwide acclaim with films such as “The Producers”, “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” and “Spaceballs.” Brooks has made some of the most financially successful and enduring comedies of all time. He is also one of a handful of people to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy.
79. Jerry Lewis, 90
> Profession: Actor, comedian, screenwriter, and director
Jerry Lewis has directed and starred in a number of highly successful films, including “The Nutty Professor,” “The Bellboy,” and “The Ladies Man.” Lewis was one of the most prolific and watched comedic actors of the 1950s and 1960s. He has been honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was named a commander in the French Legion of Honor. Lewis allegedly raised nearly $2.6 billion for muscular dystrophy in the 46-year run of The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, for which he received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
80. John Williams, 84
> Profession: Composer
John Williams is one of the most influential living composers in the world. He has composed original scores for over 100 films, including most the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter sagas, Jaws, E.T., and Jurassic Park, to name just a few. Williams has been nominated for over 40 Oscars — he won five.
Honorable Mention. Sean Connery, 86
> Profession: Actor
Connery does not make our list of 80 of the most influential Americans since he is not technically a full-fledged American. A Scottish citizen, Connery became an iconic actor, perhaps best known for starring as the original James Bond for seven films. He had much success later in life in movies such as “The Hunt for Red October,” “The Rock,” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Connery was made an honorary American citizen in 1999 by President Bill Clinton.
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