28 Oldest Gay Celebs (and Why We Still Love Them)

These legends continue to make impactful contributions to our culture at large.

Pictured above: Stephen Sondheim.

Like fine wine, gay icons improve with age, offering worldly wisdom and authority along with the groundbreaking talent they’ve served us all these years. Here’s a toast to the oldest ones and what they still bring to the table.

  1. Kenneth Anger, 93

    Scott Rudd/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

    Known for controversial short films like the leather-drenched rabble-rouser Scorpio Rising and the occult-ish Lucifer Rising and his explosive book of celebrity sex gossip, Hollywood Babylon, Anger has long been a gay provocateur of the first rank. Thanks to his urban legend-filled tome, you can never watch an old Clara Bow movie without thinking of her sleeping with the entire USC football team.

  2. John Kander, 92

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    With his late lyricist partner Fred Ebb, Kander composed the indelible scores of Cabaret and Chicago, as well as the classic tune, “New York, New York.” Musical theater is a more exalted place thanks to his works, and someone named Liza would surely agree, and all that jazz.

  3. George Maharis, 91

    Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

    The good looking Greek-American actor became a star on television’s Route 66 and went on to make pop albums and movies of varying success. But he was sort of the original George Michael, having been busted in gay sex scandals in restrooms in 1967 and 1974. I’ve been running through public bathrooms looking for him ever since.

  4. Stephen Sondheim, 89

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    With Joker, Marriage Story, and Knives Out all including his songs (or bits of them), Sondheim is more relevant than ever. There’s barely a season without a revival or movie version of one of his works. (Company is returning to Broadway this season, while West Side Story, which he did the lyrics for, is already there again, and the second West Side Story movie version comes out this year.) This is the man that also wrote the head-spinning scores for Follies, Into the Woods, and Sweeney Todd, and every theater queen with any credibility is living for him to finish his Bunuel musical. Yes, he’s still here, he’s still here…

  5. Joel Grey, 87

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    The Tony and Oscar winner, forever known as the leering MC in Cabaret, Grey finally came out as gay in 2015. Though four years earlier, in 2011, he co-directed the revival of Larry Kramer’s blistering AIDS play The Normal Heart—a bountiful gay act.

  6. Richard Chamberlain, 85

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    A heartthrob as television’s Dr. Kildare in the 1960s, Chamberlain went on to miniseries like The Thorn Birds, and he played Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity in 1988, way before Matt Damon. He didn’t come out until 2003, but a lot of people had a very strong feeling—and not just because he co-starred in a musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

  7. Don Bachardy, 85

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    The partner of the late, great author Christopher Isherwood (Goodbye to Berlin, A Single Man), Bachardy is a renowned portrait artist living in California and still creating new work.

  8. Larry Kramer, 84

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    The fiery activist and author (Faggots, The Normal Heart) is still shaking things up and making a difference by targeting complacency amongst homophobes and people in our own community, as well. He’s invaluable as an ongoing force of nature who never rests on his laurels. His recent book, The American People: Volume 2: The Brutality of Fact, is officially described as completing “his radical reimagining of his country’s history.” I’ll say.

  9. Johnny Mathis, 84

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    The velvet-voiced singer of classics like “Chances Are,” Mathis is one of the most audible voices every holiday season, thanks to his crooning of various Christmas chestnuts.

  10. George Takei, 82

    Tommaso Boddi/WireImage

    Takei is best known for playing the helmsman Sulu on Star Trek, but he’s developed a whole new chapter as an opinion maker with some pointed political tweets that have amassed nearly three million followers. Takei loves to stir it up, and he does so in riveting ways, always the helmsman. He married his partner, Brad Altman, in 2008.

  11. Sir Derek Jacobi, 81

    David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage

    The acclaimed Shakespearean actor registered a civil partnership with director Richard Clifford in the United Kingdom in 2006. Nine years later, he and pal Ian McKellen (his co-star in Vicious, the British sitcom about a bickering gay couple) were the Grand Marshals for the NYC Pride March. They were the classiest ones ever.

  12. Terrence McNally, 81

    Bruce Glikas/WireImage

    The long-running playwright has brought us The Ritz (set in a gay bathhouse), Love! Valour! Compassion! (set at a holiday retreat for gay friends) and Master Class (about diva suprema Maria Callas). Tackling gay issues with humor and heart, McNally has also served the librettos for The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime, and operas, too.

  13. Tommy Tune, 80

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    A seven-time Tony winner (for performing, direction, and choreography, plus a Lifetime Achievement Award), the lanky Texan whipped up magical Broadway productions like Nine, Grand Hotel, and The Will Rogers Follies. His taste and skill are missed on Broadway, but his impact is forever felt. Tommy turns 81 on February 28.

  14. Sir Ian McKellen, 80

    David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Paul Smith

    An openly gay actor with two franchises under his belt (The Lord of the Rings and X-Men), McKellen—twice-Oscar nominated—came out in 1988 and has been a force in the culture ever since. And, by the way, he apparently turned down Dumbledore in Harry Potter. He could have had three franchises!

  15. Joel Schumacher, 80

    Mike Pont/FilmMagic

    A popular New York presence, Schumacher was a costume designer before he turned to movie writing (Sparkle, The Wiz) and directing (St. Elmo’s Fire, The Client, and two controversial Batman movies). And that’s not all. In an interview last year, Schumacher estimated that he had slept with about 20,000 men—so far.

  16. Edmund White, 80

    Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images

    With his classic books including The Beautiful Room Is Empty and The Farewell Symphony, Edmund White has probably written more about same-sex love than anyone on earth. And more knowingly, too.

  17. Peter Berlin, 77

    Sort of a Ken doll by way of Tom of Finland, the Poland-born Berlin wore tight-fitting clothes that showed off his throbbing arms and other bulges, and became a top model and porn actor in the hormonally wild 1970s. At the time, he also got behind the lens and took some erotic photographs that he showed off in a 2015 NYC gallery show, which he flew in from San Francisco to host. “I gave people a lot of good climaxes,” Berlin told me, accurately.

  18. David Geffen, 76

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    He co-created Geffen Records and DreamWorks Pictures and he’s been so successful at it that he’s worth about $8 billion, but he’s also known as a philanthropist and a patron of the arts. Coming out in 1992, Geffen became one of the most high profile gay power brokers in the world, and he’s not about to budge from that throne. David turns 77 on February 21.

  19. Barry Manilow, 76

    Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Michael Kors

    The chart-topping singer of “Mandy” and “I Write the Songs” kept his sexuality a secret from his fan base for decades. But in 2015, he finally revealed that he’d married his longtime partner, Garry Kief, and the fans were fine with it. I guess he can’t smile without him…

  20. Felice Picano, 75

    Jude Domski/WireImage

    The NYC writer/critic has not only had his words featured in just about every major queer publication there is, but he’s started publishing houses that have showcased the works of up and coming queer artists for years. He is essential. Picano turns 76 on February 22.

  21. Armistead Maupin, 75

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    A literary legend and a gay voice, Maupin is best known for writing Tales of the City, a series of quirky San Francisco–set novels.

  22. Gordon Thomson, 74

    Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

    The Canadian actor was sensationally sexy as the snarling Adam Carrington on the prime time soap Dynasty, starting in 1982. He came out in 2017, telling the Daily Beast, “It’s not something I’ve ever announced. I’m assuming that people know, and now that I’m my age, that’s fine.”

  23. André De Shields, 74

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    The original Wiz in The Wiz, De Shields has had a storied Broadway career, last year winning a Tony for his sparkplug performance as Hermes, the salty narrator of Hadestown. His trip to the podium was one of Tony’s all-time feel-good moments.

  24. John Waters, 73

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    The man who changed the word with deliciously demented movies like Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, the Baltimore-based Waters went on to successfully switch tones with the socially conscious Hairspray. He doesn’t make films anymore, but you can catch up with him via his books and his speaking engagements, which are a splendid mix of high- and lowbrow.

  25. Sir Elton John, 72

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    The sequined Rocketman [who recently picked up a second Oscar] has nothing to prove anymore, having long been an openly gay hitmaker and fashion plate. But he’s not exactly resting on royalties from “Crocodile Rock” and The Lion King. He’s written the music for a Devil Wears Prada musical headed to Broadway next season, and even if it doesn’t get a lot of coverage in Vogue, it sounds like a hit.

  26. Bruce Vilanch, 71

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    Vilanch wrote for Bette Midler, he wrote the jokes on the Oscars, he knows everyone on both coasts, and he’s just damned funny. And if a gay can’t be funny, he doesn’t deserve to live long!

  27. Sir Antony Sher, 70

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    The South African born Olivier Award-winning actor entered into a U.K. civil partnership with Gregory Doran, a director whom he has worked with many times. They make a good collaboration. Yes, sir!

  28. Bill T. Jones, 68

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    A legend in the dance community, Jones is the co-founder of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. (Zane, his lover and collaborator, died of AIDS in 1988.) Jones’ personal and probing work has extended into Broadway productions like Spring Awakening and Fela!, both of which he won a Tony award for. Jones is married to Bjorn Amelan, who is the creative director for Jones/Zane.

Let’s also include Bob Mackie (80), who had a wife in the 1960s and later was partnered with fellow designer Ray Aghayan; and twice-married late bloomer Calvin Klein (77).

Long may they flourish!

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.
@mikeymusto