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1990s / Tony Randall Late-Life Fatherhood Controversy
Tony Randall, the actor most famous for his TV role as fastidious Felix Unger on The Odd Couple, created a stir in 1997 when he announced that his second wife Heather, 25, was expecting a child. Randall was 77 years old at the time. His first marriage of 50 years, ending with his wife Florence's death in 1992, produced no children. Randall's situation was an oddity: U.S. birth statistics indicate that only about one-tenth of one percent of American children are fathered by men over 60 years old, much less someone nearing 80. Randall learned of the stork's impending visit in 1996, while rehearsing for a production of A Christmas Carol in New York City. Randall was giddily anticipating becoming a father despite his advanced age. “What I look forward to,” he said, “is when the kid is 15 and we go out in the yard to play ball. I’ll only be 90.” (Tony's arithmetic was a little bit off the mark.) But Randall never made it to 90. He was 84 when he died in 2004, leaving behind not only a 7-year-old daughter, Julia, but also a 6-year-old son, Jefferson. The mere fact that Randall was becoming a first-time father as a septuagenarian bothered a lot of people. They complained that although Randall was financially well off, he was virtually guaranteeing his children would be fatherless at an early age. Sociologists' opinions varied. Some claimed that lower testosterone in elderly men made them better suited for parenthood because they were more nurturing. Others suggested Randall was being selfish at the expense of his children's well-being. Still others maintaned it was only the business of the Randall family. After Randall's death, his widow admitted in an interview with Larry King that she had not adequately prepared her children for the likelihood of their father dying while they were young.