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The Age-Defying Stars That Are Making it Cool to Be 80

They are proving that we can choose how we live as we age.

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photo collage of ethel-age musicians and stars, 80 years old and beyond
Franziska Barczyk (Getty Images, 13)
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Not only have Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones formed the soundtrack of my life, but they let me know that 80 is more than cool. In 1990, I was filming 21 Jump Street in Vancouver when a Stones’ roadie showed up on set with VIP box seats to The Steel Wheels tour concert that night at B.C. Place Stadium. Of course, young Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson Peete, Lela Rochon and Richard Grieco leaped for tickets ... and I said, “Wait, me too!”

I joined the gang for a magical night, knocked out by Mick prancing and strutting through 25 songs, including "Brown Sugar,” "Satisfaction,” “Honky Tonk Women” and “You Can't Always Get What You Want.”

Sold-out audiences marveled at Mick’s phenomenal energy and stamina, but he was still dogged by the press asking if this would be his last tour— at the ripe old age of 47! Mick and I are the same age. At the time, I was holding my own with a cast of actors in their early 20s and had no intention of packing it in. Now, at age 80, Mick is still going strong, no retirement in sight — and so am I.

Mick isn’t the only octogenarian still rocking audiences and filling stadiums. Paul McCartney, 81, is continuing his global Got Back tour in 2024, with dates in Australia and South America. Joni Mitchell, 80; Joan Baez, 82; Ringo Starr and Smokey Robinson, both 83; and Judy Collins, 84, among others, are still performing.

This past year, Blondie front singer and “80-adjacent” rocker, Debbie Harry, 78, played both Coachella and Glastonbury, starred in a fashion campaign for Marc Jacobs, wrapped a feature film and is said to be planning a worldwide tour. Even Cher, 77, has confirmed that she is working on two new albums and a tour.

As Bob Dylan, 82, wrote, “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

Dame Judi Dench, 88, applauds the evolution of age acceptance. “It’s the rudest word in my dictionary, ‘retire’ — and ‘old’ is another one. I don’t allow that in my house. And being called ‘vintage’ — I don’t want any of those ‘old’ words,” she says with scorn.

Ageism affects both men and women, but for women, 40 has long been viewed as a “sunset” year for actresses, while actors are still considered in their prime. According to an analysis of IMDB statistics by Robert Fleck and Andrew Hanssen, reported in The Washington Post, when an actress reaches 40, she loses access to about three-quarters of the leading film roles for women.

In an interview with WSJ Magazine, Meryl Streep addressed the age barriers for women in Hollywood that once seemed more impenetrable than they are now. “I remember as I was hovering around 40, I thought each movie would be my last, really.” Incidentally, Streep has received 13 of her 21 Academy Award nominations since she turned 40 — and, at age 74, shows no sign of retiring.

Also defying Hollywood’s outdated “Sunset” axiom, are actresses Lily Tomlin, 84, Jane Fonda, 85, Maggie Smith, 88, Sophia Loren, 89, Ellen Burstyn, 90, and Rita Moreno, 91.

That’s quite a change from the days of the long-running show, The Golden Girls, when women in their late 50s were considered “little old ladies.” Golden Girl Betty White, who passed away shortly before her 100th birthday, helped lead the charge in wiping out ageism with her 63-year career. She quipped, “My mother always used to say, 'The older you get, the better you get. Unless you're a banana'."

So, should we be surprised that The Rolling Stones’ 2024 tour will be sponsored by AARP, an organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for older adults? Not at all; despite being a rebel against aging, Mick has embraced the AARP sponsorship, as well as the motto: Choose how to live as you age. He’s also accepted being a “pensioner” and appears proud of it.

“I absolutely love that the Rolling Stones are still rocking," said Robert Pagliarini, author of the book Badass Retirement: Shatter the Retirement Myth and Live With More Meaning, Money, and Adventure, on Marketwatch. “If you are retired and want inspiration, look no further than what this band has been able to do with age. You've got to be an athlete to get on stage every night and perform at the level they do.”

Shock rocker Alice Cooper agrees, telling Rock Candy, “I’m looking at Mick Jagger as the prototype. Mick still does three-hour shows and the soundcheck. So, if Mick can do it, so can I. I’m 75, but I’ll be up there at 90 if I’m still in good enough shape.”

Of course, the press is again hounding Jagger about retirement. “I am not planning it to be the last tour,” he told Virgin Radio UK. “I love being on tour ... I enjoy going out there on stage and doing my stuff. That is what I do. I want everyone to enjoy themselves and forget the troubles in their lives for a couple of hours and just chill out and have a great afternoon and evening.”

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is still going strong — and so are a lot of us octogenarians, who choose how we live as we age.

What older performer do you really admire? Let us know in the comments below.

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