Born Nathan Birnbaum to an Orthodox Jewish family from eastern Europe, Burns's 90-year film and stage career began when he joined a boys' singing group. At 80, he won an Oscar for his role as a retired vaudeville performer in The Sunshine Boys. Asked at the celebrations how he planned to celebrate the award he said: "I'm going to go home and have a bowl of soup." But he is best remembered for his 35-year partnership with Gracie Allen, as the bemused cigar-smoking husband and comic foil to her dizzy, muddled housewife. The Burns and Allen Show was born on the stage but prospered through radio and film to become one of early television's biggest successes. "Did the maid ever drop you on your head when you were a baby?" Burns asked, in one classic exchange. "Don't be silly, George," she replied. "We couldn't afford a maid. My mother had to do it."
"She made everything possible for me," Burns once said of his wife, who retired in 1958 and died of cancer six years later. He went through a deep depression after her death, but returned to fashion a solo career as a comic raconteur. He followed his success in The Sunshine Boys with the title role in the film comedy Oh God, wearing baggy pants, sneakers and a golf cap.
Burns died at 10am yesterday in his Beverly Hills home after appearing to recover from the flu which forced him to bow out of a birthday gala on 20 January.
He spent his 100th birthday quietly with his family, but put out a statement saying: "What do you give a man who's been so blessed? Another 100 years? A night with Sharon Stone?"