In 1981-1984, the nutritional status of 747 noninstitutionalized Massachusetts residents aged 60 years and over was assessed. Nine to 12 years later, the vital status of these subjects was determined. The data of a subset of 725 community-dwelling volunteers was used to examine associations between mortality and the nutrient antioxidants (carotenoids and vitamins C and E) in plasma, diet, and supplements. Results indicated that subjects with plasma vitamin C levels in the middle and high quintiles had a lower overall mortality (relative risk (RR) = 0.64, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.44-0.94 and RR = 0.54, 95% CI 0.32-0.90, respectively) than those in the lowest quintile even after adjustment for potential confounders. These associations were largely due to reduced mortality from heart disease. Subjects in the highest quintile of total intake of vitamin C also had a significantly lower risk of overall mortality (RR = 0.55, 95% CI 0.32-0.93) and mortality from heart disease (RR = 0.38, 95% CI 0.19-0.75) than did those in the lowest quintile after potential confounders were controlled for. Intake of vegetables was inversely associated with overall mortality (p for trend = 0.003) and mortality from heart disease (p for trend = 0.04). No other significant associations were observed. In conclusion, the results indicate that high intakes and plasma levels of vitamin C and frequent consumption of vegetables may be protective against early mortality and mortality from heart disease.