A new professional lease of life for old celebrities

At 81, Clint Eastwood is set to act againwhile veteran musicians, TV hosts and other aged stars thrive, says John Daly

THE iconic movie line, “go ahead, punk, make my day,” was delivered by Clint Eastwood as one of his signature characters, Dirty Harry. Now, the aging actor and director looks to have come full circle with the recent announcement he may be coming out of retirement for another acting role.

Eastwood, one of Hollywood’s most respected and enduring stars, retired from acting in 2008. “That will probably do it for me as far as acting is concerned,” he said after his last heroic part in Gran Torino. “You always want to quit while you are ahead. You don’t want to be like a fighter who stays too long in the ring until you’re not performing at your best.”

The 81-year old has reconsidered another stint in front of the cameras for Trouble With The Curve, a story about an ageing baseball coach slowly going blind who embarks on one last talent-scouting trip across the country in the company of his daughter.

In a culture supposedly obsessed with youth, older stars are experiencing an unexpected renaissance in everything from television to movies. The successful return to Irish TV screens of Gay Byrne, 77, and Mike Murphy, 69, shows the appetite of audiences for older stars — but only those with the golden touch that time has not withered.

Murphy, who once famously prompted Gaybo to utter the dreaded ‘f-word’ live on air by mugging to the camera disguised as a pesky French rugby supporter, remains ‘a national asset’ despite having walked away from his TV career in 2002 to become a property developer.

It was a move that the older campaigner urged him to reconsider at the time: “Gay told me I’d thrown my career away,” Murphy said in an interview in 2007. “He was very concerned and genuinely thought I had ruined everything for myself.”

Years later, both are back once again to applause in the national spotlight — with Gaybo even having briefly considered throwing his hat into the race for the Irish presidency.

A similar older jewel in the British entertainment crown, Strictly Come Dancing presenter Bruce Forsyth, 83, knelt before the Queen last month to become Sir Brucie — in a career that shows no signs of creaking to a halt. “You’ve been entertaining us a long time, how long have you been in showbusiness?” asked Her Majesty. “Seventy years, Ma’am, since I was 14,” replied the trouper.

Proving that even the most exciting movies need not have youth to deliver edge-of-the-seat oomph for cinema-goers, one of last year’s most successful action films had a cast loaded with pensioners. The action thriller, Red, starred Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich — all into the 55 to 65 age groove, yet still clocked up serious box office among the notoriously picky 18 to 30 audience. The once-proud Rocky — Sylvester Stallone, 64 — pulled off a similar feat with The Expendables, another bombs-and-bullets blow-out, in the company of Dolph Lundgren, 53, Eric Roberts, 55, and Mickey Rourke, 58. In fact, so successful was the film that a sequel is due next year.

Another venerable thespian currently enjoying an autumn revival is Jeff Bridges, 62, the best actor Oscar winner for Crazy Heart in 2009, as well as being the heart and soul of last year’s Western triumph, True Grit.

Not old enough to impress you? Try Robert Duvall, 79, who turned in one of the best performances of his career as a cranky geezer in Get Low. Or what about Michael Caine, 77, an old soldier who turns pensioner punisher in Harry Brown.

At a recent press conference, Helen Mirren — a woman who can still stop traffic in a bikini at 66 — said older actors were popular because “it’s probably a lot to do with the baby-boom generation refusing to let go of their place in the world.”

Andie McDowell, 53, the face of L’Oreal and elusive love interest who drove Hugh Grant mad with desire in Four Weddings & A Funeral, takes a similarly optimistic view. “Films have changed a lot,” she said recently. “I think women are finally able to get older and be sexy just like men.”

Away from the silver screen and on to the concert stages of the world, a phalanx of ageing rock stars are similarly intent on proving their street cred to a new generation. Grizzled veterans like Bryan Ferry, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones and Sting continue to shake their wrinkled booties for big bucks.

Proving that 60-plus is no longer too old to rock ‘n’ roll, crooners like Elton John and Rod Stewart can still book out the big stadiums despite the physical reality of increased waistlines and decreased hairlines. Backed by slick promotional campaigns, trend-savvy managers and back catalogues of anthems that still get thousands of Zippo flames raised in adoration, people like Tom Petty, Aerosmith, The Beach Boys and Bill Wyman are getting a second wind in the rarefied realms of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. But while it’s remarkable enough that 65-year-old men with bleached blond hair performing geriatric hip thrusts to the strains of Maggie May can still pull 5,000 paying punters to places like The Point, the Albert Hall and Madison Square Garden, a treasure trove of even greater dimensions awaits them in the newly-opened markets of Eastern Europe, China, South America and India. Time moves on, but the song remains the same. “As long as I’m having some fun with it, why not keep singing,” says Stewart, 65. “After all, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll.”

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