George Burns For other uses, see George Burns (disambiguation). For other people named Burns, see Burns (disambiguation). George Burns, born Nathan Birnbaum, (January 20, 1896 - March 9, 1996), was an American comedian and actor, arguably the greatest straight man of 20th Century American comedy. His virtuosity in that role actually refined him in his late life renaissance as a standup punch-liner in his own right: his long-practised discipline as a straight man meant that, as a punch-liner, he probably knew by long-developed second nature what most comics spend years barely mastering in terms of prodding laughs with subtlety.
His career spanned vaudeville, film, radio, and television, with and without his equally legendary wife, Gracie Allen. His arched eyebrow (as effective at drawing laughs as best friend Jack Benny's exasperated pregnant pause) and cigar smoke punctuation (he used it as a pregnant pause prop, even though cigar smoking was as second-nature to him as to Groucho Marx) became familiar trademarks for over three-quarters of a century. But even more remarkable was his resurrection at an age when most men are either retired or deceased. Beginning at age 79, and ending with his passing at age 100, George Burns was better known than he was at any other time in his life and career.