There is an old TV drama plotline that gets recycled every now and again. I’ve seen it on M*A*S*H* and I’ve seen it on The Simpsons. The idea is that after some climatic battle or major event, the people who fought in that event will find a bottle of champagne or some other potent potable, with the idea that the last living survivor of that battle will open that bottle and drink to the memory of their fallen comrades.
Thus is a tontine.
Well, think about this. Let’s say you’ve starred in a popular television series, the show is still beloved by fans around the world. And over time, sadly, many of the actors and actresses who were part of that series have since been called to Glory. Until you’re at the point where there’s only one surviving cast member from the main roster of the series.
Now let’s do some clarification. By “main roster,” I mean that the person’s name was in the show’s opening credits for mostly the entire run of the series. I’m not counting final-season “Cousin Oliver” additions to the lineup, and I’m not counting recurring guest stars without special consideration.
Surprisingly, some cast members lasted longer than one would expect. Tom Lester, who played farmhand Eb Dawson on the surreal sitcom Green Acres, was the show’s last surviving cast member when he passed away in 2020. Just to give you an example of where I’m going with this.
That being said, let me show you the final surviving cast members from your favorite dramas and sitcoms.
Burt Ward is the last surviving cast member of the popular 1960’s superhero show. And that’s not counting recurring villains, because if we did, then the other survivors would include Julie Newmar (Catwoman) and Joan Collins (The Siren).
Barbara Feldon, who played the sultry Agent 99, is the last surviving main cast member from this show. And in 11 years, she’ll actually share the same age as the name of her character on the series. Incidentally, if we’re counting supporting characters, then we can add Bernie Kopell to this list, as the man who played Siegried is still alive.
I DREAM OF JEANNIE
Yep, Barbara Eden is the last surviving main cast member for this series. Someone wrap her in bubble wrap and protect her going forward. 😀
THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES
The last remaining original cast member from this long-running series is Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro Bodine (and, on occasion, his twin sister Jethrine) during the show’s nine-year run.
Seven castaways survived three seasons and a string of TV movies. Of those seven, only Tina Louise (as Ginger Grant) is still with us today.
Not counting Danny Cooksey, who came in in the final seasons (again, I’m using the “Cousin Oliver” argument), the last surviving cast member from this show is Todd Bridges, who played Willis Jackson for the show’s entire run.
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW
With the recent passing of Ed Asner as the gruff news director Lou Grant, the final surviving cast member for this series is Betty White, who played happy homemaker Sue Ann Nivens throughout the show’s run. Oh, and Betty White is a double-tontine survivor, because… yep…
THE GOLDEN GIRLS
Yep, Betty White is the last remaining cast member from this show as well. Amazing.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK
This show ran from 1978 to 1982, and of the three cast members listed in the opening credits, only one – Lou Ferrigno himself – is still around. That green body paint and deep roar does seem to give lots of immunity.
That’s right, through the show’s three seasons, Lynda Carter has survived to this day and is the last remaining cast member from the popular show. And if you’ll excuse me, I need to go binge-watch a few dozen episodes right now. 😀
I’m sure there are other tontine TV members out there, but these ten (nine, if you don’t count Betty White twice) will do for starters. Yes?