World's oldest entertainer celebrates 105th birthday on stage

7th December 2008, Comments 0 comments

Heesters is also in the thick of a lawsuit and a controversy over remarks this week on Dutch television.

Hamburg -- The world's oldest entertainer, Dutch-born musical star Johannes Heesters, turned 105 Friday doing what he has always done: putting on stage makeup and going out on stage to perform.

Heesters, who is also in the thick of a lawsuit and a controversy about remarks this week on Dutch television, has been booked to perform for a season of the operetta, The White Horse Inn.

Reviewers conceded last month that he quavers a bit now, but where else in the world can you pay to see a 105-year-old tenor?

His role, as the Emperor Franz Joseph, requires him to sing only one song and spend eight minutes on stage.

He ought to know the tunes. As a singing senior back in 1952, he played one of the romantic male leads in a film version of the same musical. This time round he is singing nightly at the Komoedie Winterhuder Faehrhaus theatre until January 18.

His wife, Simone Rethel-Heesters, 59, keeps within a few meters to ensure he does not take a tumble. His sight and hearing are impaired.

Heesters, whose celebrity career began in 1934 Vienna, is reviled in his homeland, the Netherlands, for collaborating with the Nazis. He acted dandy roles in German feel-good movies during the Second World War.

He even flattered the SS guards at Dachau Concentration Camp with a 1941 visit. "But I never sang to them," Heesters insists, adding that his Munich theatre company at the time was invited as a group.

A Berlin judge is set to give a verdict shortly in a libel suit that Heesters brought against an author, who claims Heesters performed at Dachau. The bemused judge said it was now impossible to prove if he did or he didn't, and wondered if it was important.

Heesters now lives in an upscale outer suburb of Munich.

At the start of this year, Heesters was invited home to the Netherlands to perform, easing a decades-old chill, but many Dutch are still not sure what to make of him.

He agreed to be interviewed this week on an irreverent satirical news show on Dutch television and stumbled over a question about whether he had thought Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was a "nice guy."

Speaking a mishmash of Dutch and German, Heesters said, "Adolf Hitler, gee, I hardly know the man, but a guy, you know, he was one, a decent guy." His ever-present wife then interrupted, cautioning him that he seemed to be saying that Hitler was a nice guy.

"Well he wasn't one, but to me he seemed nice," Heesters said stubbornly, then joked, "I can't say anything now or she'll get mad at me." His wife later issued a statement saying he had been inept and was sorry.

White-haired Heesters also makes regular television appearances in Germany.

He refuses to retire, saying it would finish him off, and keeps up a repertoire of numbers from The Merry Widow and other operettas popular in pre-War Europe. He regularly serves up comic one-liners playing on his age.

"You know, I don't feel a day over 100," he tells audiences.


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