109-Year-Old Celebrates Birthday With Belly Dancer, Shares Life Lessons

  • Morrie Markoff recently celebrated his 109th birthday with a belly dancer.
  • His life has been far from easy, but he tries to get enjoyment out of each day.
  • Markoff’s life lessons include being read widely, forgetting about age, and living in the moment.

Morrie Markoff celebrated his 109th birthday earlier this year with a belly dancer.

“I became young again!” Markoff told Insider. “She was beautiful. A fan dancer!…But then she went home! What kind of gift is that?” Markoff joked.

It was a fitting reaction from the centenarians, who tried to get the most out of each day after a long and challenging, but amazing life.

Markoff sat at his desk, holding his thumb up at the camera.

Morrie Markoff today.

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



From being a street kid in poverty to surviving two pandemics and learning about the atrocities made against Jewish people during World War II, Markoff has had his share of difficulties.

Here are his 12 most important life lessons for a long, happy life:

1. Live in the moment

Morrie Markoff smiles as he holds a rooster.

Morrie Markoff.

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



Markoff believes his life has taught him to focus on the task at hand, and not worry about the future too much.

“I escaped death many times. Why? I don’t know, it just happened. But I don’t think about it,” he said.

“I don’t worry. I sleep well. I go to sleep: ‘Boom!'” he said.

Markoff first learned to be present at the moment when a neighborhood kid shoved him off a dock in the dirty, cold East River in New York City. Markoff, then just a young child, almost died.

“I said to myself: Go with the flow. Go with the tide. And that’s what I did,” he said.

Asked about the concerns people may have today, Markoff said: “I understand they’re concerned. Many people have problems. They lose their jobs, they can’t support their family, and unemployment insurance doesn’t pay much,” he said.

“Ultimately with all your problems, discomfort, hang in there. Do your best to take care of you,” he said.

2. Keep active

Morrie Markoff is shown in a black and white picture as a young man wearing swimming trunks and crossing his arms, looking off in a distance.

Markoff as a young man. A dedication at the bottom of the picture reads “To Bettie from Morrie”

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



Markoff said his most important lesson in life is to stay active. “Don’t spend your life in bed unless you’re sick,” he said.

For 30 years, Markoff and his wife Betty, who lived until she was 103, walked 3.2 miles every day.

“We believe men and women aren’t meant to be around all day. Legs are meant for walking,” Markoff said in his book.

3. Age is just a number

Morrie Markoff laughs under balloons reading '109' as a belly dancer goes around his chair.

Morrie Markoff on his 109th birthday enjoying the surprise organized by his grandson

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



“I don’t realize today how old I am. People tell me I’m 109, I don’t feel 109,” he said.

“I don’t know how long I’ll live, I don’t think about it. I get up in the morning and I try to have as much pleasure out of life as I can get,” he said.

Markoff has taken his own advice to heart. When he was 103, he put on an exhibition of his metalwork sculptures.

4. Eat what you like — in moderation

The Markoff family is shown on an outing to the beach.  The children are very young in that picture.

The Markoff family at the beach.

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



Markoff said he has never particularly cared much about his diet and has no great secret to share with people.

“To all my readers who wish to reach 100, I’m sorry I have no secrets. Betty and I have never taken vitamins or pills. We don’t eat or buy organic food. We drink faucet water,” said Markoff in his book “Keep Breathing.”

“I have not been a paragon of good health,” said Markoff.

“I ate what I like. And I still do,” he told Insider.

Still, it’s not a life riddle with processed food. The first time Markoff had a hamburger with mash and peas was when he was jailed overnight after stealing tools from a submarine.

After his marriage, Betty Markoff made sure he ate a mixture of protein vegetables and rich deserts, but always eaten in moderation, he said.

Markoff was also plagued with crippling undiagnosed lactose intolerance. It’s only when he learned to listen to his body and eat vegetables and avoid dairy, against the advice of his doctors who didn’t know better at the time, that he figured out what was wrong, he said in his book.

5. Quit smoking

If there’s one regret Markoff has about his health, it is starting to smoke at 16.

Markoff smoked two to three packs a day for over 30 years.

“I paid a price that almost killed me. I developed cancer on my tongue,” he said.

Luckily, the cancer was on the side of his tongue, he said. “Had it been at the back of my tongue, my tongue would have had to be removed,” he said.

6. Keep reading

Morrie and Betty Markoff pictured a couple decades ago.

Morrie and Betty Markoff.

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



However possible, you should do your best to keep well informed, said Markoff.

Markoff said from the age of six or seven, he would never stop reading.

In spite of not having had a higher education, which he regretted, “I’m considered by people who know me to be an educated person, quite knowledgeable about politics and the world around me,” he said.

“People who know me assume I had a college education. I didn’t. I only went as far as sixth grade,” he said.

“Keep aware of what’s around you, keep reading,” said Markoff, adding: “Stay with the times.”

Having lived through some of the most defining moments of the 20th century, Markoff said: “The world is always in turmoil. Always. There are always wars going on, people fighting for their liberty,” he said.

“I’ve seen what happened in Germany to the Jews, millions of people have died. So above all, keep fighting,” he told Insider.

7. Try not to focus on money

The Markoff Family is shown in a black and white picture.  The two young parents and young teens are well dressed.  Betty Markoff is holding a dog.  A note reads The Markoffs January 1959

The Markoff Family on January 1959.

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



Even if you can make lots of money, you may be better off keeping your means lean.

As a child growing up in the Harlem tenements, Markoff learned the value of money early on — he had a job from the age of six.

“Born poor, like most people, I wanted to make money,” he said in his book.

Later in life, Markoff made a good living as a vacuum salesman. But he said he never wanted a rich life.

“My desires were simple and attainable,” he said. “I did not want multiple home cars, and cared little for expensive clothes or jewelry. I wanted a life as uncomplicated and free of problems as I could make it.”

That being said: “No one should live in poverty,” he pondered. “All should have the basics and necessities of life.”

8. Shop local

In spite of his parent’s relative poverty, Markoff said he was never hungry. He attributes a lot of that to the small businesses in his neighborhood.

From a young age, Markoff picked up odd jobs here and there, working as a shoe shine boy, newspaper boy, and more. He would scroung old fruit from a local fruit cart, and pastry from the local delicatessen.

The local pharmacist also doubled as a paramedic, tending to the needs of the many in the neighborhood who got injured or ill.

“The ensuing years have brought the demise of small businesses, and with them, part of our culture,” Markoff said in his book.

“They call it progress… I wonder,” he said in his book.

Morrie and Betty Markoff are pictured getting ready to eat a cake.  A note reads 1976

Morrie and betty Markoff in 1976.

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



9. Fight your own prejudices

As a young kid in the tenements, Markoff grew up in a polarized culture steeped in prejudice.

“I am Jewish, and I remember when I was a little boy, we would pass a Catholic church, and my mother would spit,” he said.

“I was taught intolerance, but I learned tolerance,” said Markoff.

Markoff himself has experienced his share of prejudice. In his book, he explains how he was turned down for jobs and apartments for being Jewish.

“Nobody is born prejudiced. Prejudice has to be learned,” Markoff said.

10. Love deeply and take care of people

Morrie Markoff and Betty Markoff are wearing plastic crowns under balloons reading

Morrie and Betty Markoff on their 80th wedding anniversary.

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



Markoff enjoyed a long happy marriage with his wife Betty, who also passed the age of one hundred before dying.

“I was a lucky man,” he said.

In his book, Markoff explains the basis for a happy marriage. It’s not only loving deeply but caring deeply.

“To me, the word love is a selfish term, possessive, controlling, and demanding. If you truly have the interest and happiness of your wife as your unconsuming interest at heart, then you ‘care about her’,” he said in his book.

Even after her passing, Betty Markoff remains an important part of Morrie’s life. He still sings to his “Betsy doll” every day, he said.

That care extends to everybody. “You treat people the way you like to be treated. It’s important. Be kind, be helpful whenever you can,” he said.

11. Take care of your teeth

“Dentures are never as good as your teeth,” said Markoff. “So do your best to hang on to your teeth. Brush ’em as best you can, and don’t eat too many sweets!”

12. Just keep breathing

Morrie Markoff and his grandson Thomas Markoff hold their thumbs up to the camera

Morrie Markoff and his grandson Thomas in 2023.

Courtesy of Thomas Markoff



Markoff puts down a lot of his long life to luck. “I am a great believer in luck,” he said.

Ultimately, his best advice for a long, healthy life is to carry on and just “keep breathing,” he said.

“I try to live a normal life like everyone else, and I’ve lived this long, which is a surprise to me because I’ve lived through some dangerous times,” he said.

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