The 10 Most Heartwarming Grownup Celebrity Moments of 2021
This year-end countdown is sure to put a smile on your face
During the pandemic, many of us turned to videos of animals and babies (and baby animals!) to get us through these emotionally trying times. But grownup celebrities, from Dionne Warwick to Norman Lear to Judi Dench, provided us with a surprising amount of heartwarming viral content as well, including awards show appearances, social media moments, inspiring news stories and, well, some good old-fashioned nonagenarian cursing. Here are the 10 moments that had us talking, laughing and sharing in the past year.
Dionne Warwick crashes SNL
One of the few delights of the COVID era has been the ascendancy of soul legend Dionne Warwick, 81, to Twitter royalty, as she used the platform for hilarious (and often hilariously blunt) interactions with celebrities including Chance the Rapper and Taylor Swift. Saturday Night Live star Ego Nwodim turned Warwick's newfound internet persona into a recurring sketch called “The Dionne Warwick Talk Show,” which caused the real Warwick to tweet at her impersonator, “You did a wonderful job, baby. You are a star.” On the Nov. 6 episode, Nwodim’s Warwick, exasperated by the quality of her guests, said, “You know what? I’m tired of interviewing people who are not icons. Please welcome me.” And out walked the real Warwick, in a sequined sweatsuit. “I’m so excited for you that I’m here,” she said. After a brief chat about rappers, Burt Bacharach and cryptocurrency, they finished out the sketch by singing “What the World Needs Now” together.
Watch it: Hulu, Peacock, YouTube
Melora Hardin scores a perfect 40 on Dancing With the Stars
You might know actress Melora Hardin, 54, from her roles as Jan Levinson on The Office or as magazine editor-in-chief Jacqueline Carlyle on The Bold Type, but this year, she was also one of the unexpected breakouts of the 30th season of Dancing With the Stars. During Janet Jackson Night, Hardin and her partner, Artem Chigvintsev, earned a perfect 40 for their paso doble to the song “If.” Judge Carrie Ann Inaba showered Hardin with praise, saying, “I just have to say this, oftentimes women in their 50s just can’t quite compete at the level of everybody else, but this year you are kicking the balls out of this ballroom dance competition.”
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Dame Judi Dench cameos on her grandson’s TikTok
With its snappy little videos and fun interactive elements, TikTok has become the most defining social media platform of the past few years — if you need a refresher, just ask a grandkid or another member of Gen Z! In 2020, Dame Judi Dench, 87, joined her grandson Sam Williams (@sam.williams1) on a series of viral dancing videos, and in 2021, the duo teamed back up for a round of “Guess the Lyric,” in which Sam tested his gran’s knowledge of contemporary music. She goes 0 for 3, but we like some of her guesses better than the real thing!
Watch it: TikTok
Musical theater veterans welcome back Broadway
It’s hard to think of a sector of the entertainment industry that had a tougher time during the pandemic than Broadway. On Sept. 26, the New York theater world came roaring back to life with a celebrity concert called The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!, featuring performances by the likes of Audra McDonald (51), Brian Stokes Mitchell (64), David Byrne (69), Bernadette Peters (73), Norm Lewis (58), Adam Pascal (51) and Anthony Rapp (50). In perhaps the most talked-about song of the night, Wicked duo Kristin Chenoweth (53) and Idina Menzel (50) teamed back up on the song “For Good.” We were changed.
Watch it: Twitter
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Debbie Allen becomes the first Black woman to win the Governors Award at the Emmys
There are few Hollywood multi-hyphenates with more hyphens under their belt than Debbie Allen, the writer-director-actress-producer-singer-dancer-choreographer who first burst onto the scene with Fame. At this year’s Emmys, the Grey’s Anatomy star made history as the first Black woman to be honored with the Governors Award. “It’s taken a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time,” said Allen, in her inspiring speech. “A lot of courage and creativity and fight and faith to believe that I could keep going.” One of the highlights of the night came when Allen waved off the countdown clock that was signaling the end of her speech: “Honey, turn off that clock. I don’t pay attention to it. Turn it off. Turn it off.”
Watch it: YouTube
William Shatner goes to space
Star Trek’s own Captain Kirk, William Shatner, became the oldest person to ever go to space at the age of 90, when he hitched a ride aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule and crossed the Kármán line — the imaginary border between the atmosphere and space, about 63 miles above Earth’s surface. “I’m so filled with emotion with what just happened,” Shatner said, after landing safely. “I hope I never recover from this.” His historic achievement inspired the new Amazon Prime documentary Shatner in Space, out now.
Watch it: Amazon Prime
Norman Lear drops an F-bomb on live TV
In the third outing of his Emmy-winning variety special Live in Front of a Studio Audience, Jimmy Kimmel, 54, gathered a star-studded ensemble to reenact classic episodes of The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes. Cast members included Ann Dowd (65), Jon Stewart (59), John Lithgow (76), Jennifer Aniston (52) and Gabrielle Union, but perhaps the most memorable moment of the evening came during the introduction when co-host and living legend Norman Lear, 99, dropped an F-bomb on live television. When Kimmel asked Lear for any advice he’d picked up over his near-century on the planet, he said, “Two little words that we don't think enough about: ‘over’ and ‘next.’ When something is over, it is — and you used the word, so I will — it is f**king over!” Kimmel responded, with a laugh, “Well, I said that off camera. But I will say that never before in the history of American television has a 99-year-old person used the f-word. So congratulations! Another feather in your cap!"
Watch it: ABC
Bernie Sanders wears fluffy mittens
Whether or not you agree with Senator Bernie Sanders’ politics, you may have been charmed by his outfit at President Biden’s inauguration ceremony in January. With temperatures hovering around 42 degrees Fahrenheit in D.C. that day, Sanders, 80, came prepared — wearing big fluffy mittens that had been knit using recycled wool by Vermont elementary school teacher Jen Ellis. “You know in Vermont, we dress warm, we know something about the cold, and we’re not so concerned about good fashion — we want to keep warm,” Sanders told CBS. “And that’s what I did today.” The image quickly became an internet meme, and you can now buy Ellis’ mittens on the Vermont Teddy Bear website, with a portion of the proceeds going to Make-A-Wish Vermont.
The Friends reunite'
In May’s much-anticipated, COVID-delayed Friends: The Reunion special on HBO Max, Jennifer Aniston (52), Courteney Cox (57), Lisa Kudrow (58), Matt LeBlanc (54), Matthew Perry (52) and David Schwimmer (55) took a sweet trip down memory lane with visits to the set, table reads and reenactments. They were joined by a slew of guest stars and former castmates, including Elliott Gould (83), Cindy Crawford (55) and Maggie Wheeler (60), who played Janice. Oh. My. God!
Watch it: HBO Max
… and so did Bennifer
Of all the improbable things that happened in 2021, one of the most delightfully unexpected was the rekindling of one of the top celebrity couples of the early aughts: Jennifer Lopez (52) and Ben Affleck. Bennifer 2.0 came with oodles of PDA, red carpet appearances, paparazzi shots and joint interviews. It all felt very “before times” — and we were here for it.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.