On Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas and Aging Well

Posted: Apr 08, 2008 12:01 AM
On Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas and Aging Well

In March, I passed another birthday. Some approach like a Carnival cruise. Others go by like kidney stones. A friend gave me a card with several funny, light-hearted aging quips, completions to the adage, "You know you're getting older when ..."

-- You feel like the night after, and you haven't been anywhere.

-- Those issues of Reader's Digest just can't come fast enough.

-- Everything hurts, and what doesn't hurt doesn't work.

-- All you want for your birthday is to not be reminded of your age.

-- You actually want socks for Christmas.

-- You and your teeth don't sleep together.

-- You remember when the Dead Sea was only sick.

-- Your address book has mostly names that start with Dr.

-- People call at 9:00 p.m. and ask, "Did I wake you?"

-- You take a metal detector to the beach.

As hilarious as some of those sayings are, I actually agree with Jack Benny, who once said: "Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

I found another proof of optimistic aging this past week, when I stumbled upon a Los Angeles Times article about 91-year-old Kirk Douglas. I might not agree with Kirk about his Democratic preferences and positions, but I highly respect the man for his stamina, career and activism. Not only has he won every award Hollywood offers, but he has been a U.S. goodwill ambassador to at least 40 countries.

Kirk also just came out with his book, "Let's Face It: 90 years of Living, Loving and Learning." In his pre-centennial decade, Douglas is still using his stardom to make a difference and striving to better himself and the world around him. He even has his own MySpace page, and enjoys blogging and chatting online.

I've always loved to watch Kirk on screen. Some of my favorite films include "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (TV) and, of course, "Spartacus."

Douglas says he is grateful for the favorable media attention he has received through the years, but that he now "resents the attitude of the media" because they don't give a fair hearing to celebrity activists.

I'm not sure about the accuracy of his sentiments there, since Bono, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt always seem to be headlining some humanitarian cause. If, however, Kirk is referring to the media's distain for conservative entertaining activists, I would amen his antipathy.

A perfect attestation of that broadcasting absence is the towering figure and icon Charlton Heston, who just passed away on Saturday (after I had already written most of this column). Outside of his monumental contributions to stage and screen, the media have given only scant mention to his activism through the years, largely because it was tenaciously conservative.

I remember during the Gulf War, when Heston attacked CNN for "sowing doubts" about the allied efforts. As one news report conveyed, "With age, he grew more conservative and campaigned for conservative candidates. ... His latter-day activism almost overshadowed his achievements as an actor, which were considerable."

One of his most notable jabs was delivered in 1998 as the president of the NRA to the then-President Clinton, ''America doesn't trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don't trust you with our guns.'' In 2003, he was suitably awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Heston, like Douglas, understood that we're called to use who we are to serve the greater good.

Kirk recounts how someone once told him, "Be ashamed to die before doing something for humanity." That is why he purports: "As you get older you must think more of other people. You must strive to help other people." Then he offers this generational plea: "Who needs the most help but the young? What kind of a world are we leaving them?"

Dr. Anthony Campolo once did a study in which 50 people over the age of 95 were asked, "If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?" An array of responses came from these eldest of senior citizens. However, three answers constantly surfaced far more than others. If I had it to do over again, I would reflect more. If I had it to do over again, I would risk more. If I had it to do over again, I would do more things that would live on after I am dead.

It's great to see people like Kirk Douglas still reflecting, risking and advancing his legacy. He's a good model for all of us in this respect.

If Bob Hope supported our troops until 100, George Burns made us laugh until 100, Charlton Heston showed us what conservative activism looks like at 84, and Kirk Douglas is still writing and an activist at 91, then you and I have the second half of our lives to continue to make an impact on this planet.

Abraham Lincoln was correct: "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."