By Deborah Wilker
Stumbling upon the news that Sarah Jessica Parker had turned 50 on March 25, I figured there had to be some mistake.
Wasn’t Kim Cattrall the older one? Isn’t Carrie Bradshaw still prancing through the streets of New York in that little white ballet skirt? She could not possibly have arrived at the half-century mark.
Alas, she has. SJP – Carrie on HBO’s Sex and the City from 1998-2004, as well as the daffy young tart in The First Wives Club and Annie on Broadway as a kid (and in real life Mrs. Ferris Bueller, aka Mrs. Matthew Broderick), has hit the big Five-Oh.
As if that’s not sobering enough, Parker’s SATC co-star Kristin Davis (Charlotte) celebrated her 50th in February. (Cattrall, by the way, is 58). What’s the universe going to throw at us next? That “teen” sitcom favorites Todd Bridges and DJ Jazzy Jeff will also be 50 in 2015? That Duckie from Pretty in Pink – Two And A Half Men’s Jon Cryer – is also in this club? That sports greats Scottie Pippen, Mario Lemieux and Lennox Lewis have big birthdays too? That lissome Olympic champ Katarina Witt has somehow skated to her 50th? Didn’t she just pose for Playboy? (Actually, that was 17 years ago).
Now that we’ve digested the news, let’s remind ourselves that 50 is young by today’s standards – if not the new 30, then at least the new 38.
Hitting this point in life is actually pretty great. It means we’ve made it this far, while still having a very long way to go.
For some entertainers, it seems reaching 50 really is just a number – not a mandate to slow down. Some are just now getting started in new endeavors, while others are taking stock and shifting gears. Here’s a look at just a few who are unafraid to take new paths.
Onward and Upward After 50
Chris Rock has had an unparalleled stand-up comedy career for decades, with success in television too, but translating his comic genius to the big screen hasn’t always gone well.
That changed late last year when Rock made a small movie on his own terms, with little corporate interference. Unveiling Top Five at The Toronto Film Festival, he suddenly experienced the kind of critical acclaim that had eluded him his entire career. The film – about a comedian looking for respect in the movies – was so well received it created a bidding war among the major studios.
For a road map of what his next 30 years in show business might look like, Rock, in an interview with New York magazine, cited the late comedians George Carlin and Joan Rivers, who were relevant and funny till the end.
“Joan updated constantly,” Rock said. “The compliment you give of a comedian is: Who wants to follow them onstage? Nobody wanted to follow Joan Rivers, ever. Even in her 80s, nobody wanted to follow her.”
Rock said that keeping his stand-up act fresh with current references (think “Uber” instead of “taxi”) is crucial, and he considers staying on top of social media equally important.
“You have to understand it,” he said, “because if you don’t then you’re going to sound like an old guy.”
Brooke Shields stirred controversy in the 1970s with teen acting roles and modeling jobs that pushed boundaries. In her effort to turn her daughter into a superstar, Shields’ mother/manager Teri, who died in 2012, often took heat for steering her daughter toward the lurid.
It wasn’t until her 2014 book, There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me, that Shields addressed her mother’s lifelong battle with alcoholism, its effect on their lives and Shields’ long career.
Shields, who turns 50 on May 31, said the writing experience was restorative, and the topic was something she was proud to have finally dissected. She starred in NBC’s late-’90s comedy Suddenly Susan, and most recently appeared on ABC’s The Middle and Adult Swim’s Mr. Pickles. Now it may be time to move on again, Shields said, telling USA Today, “I need a jolt of comedy in my life.”
If it’s possible to start a new life at 40 – and then at 50 become bigger and more marketable than you’ve ever been – Robert Downey Jr. is the case study. Vanity Fair called Downey “the greatest third act in Hollywood.”
And in fact, he is – going from rising star 30 years ago, to destitute addict, to the highest paid actor in the business, now earning $75 million a year.
After hitting it big with The Pick-Up Artist and Less Than Zero in the ’80s, Brat Packer Downey was nominated for an Oscar for his 1992 turn as Charlie Chaplin. But his promising career was already unraveling amid constant drug and alcohol binges, arrests, jail time, jail breaks and endless court appearances.
Several cracks at sobriety didn’t take, until finally in 2003 – after meeting his second wife, film producer Susan Levin – Downey got it together with her help. By 2005 they were married and he was an insurable actor again, thanks to an ongoing regimen of yoga, meditation, martial arts and 12-step meetings.
In 2008 Downey landed the life-changing role of Tony Stark, and now his character anchors two of the most successful franchises in Hollywood history – Iron Man and The Avengers – both of which have earned billions. He also stars in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes blockbusters, and in 2009 he was nominated for his second Oscar for his supporting role in Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller’s Hollywood farce.
In this newest phase, Downey and Levin are parents to two little ones, while running their own production company. Last fall they detoured from popcorn fare to create the emotional family courtroom drama The Judge, in which Downey starred opposite Robert Duvall, who received a 2015 Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor. The producing duo is now shepherding Baghdad Country Club, the story of a soldier who opens a bar in Iraq, for Cinemax.
Of his new lease on life, vast riches and evolving opportunities, Downey told Vanity Fair: “Job one is to get out of that cave. A lot of people do get out but don’t change. So the thing is to get out and recognize the significance of that aggressive denial of your fate, and come through the crucible forged into a stronger metal.”
How about the renewed Shania Twain, now launching her first concert tour in 11 years? While readying the 48-city jaunt, Twain is also working on a new studio album, her first in more than 12 years, of which she said: “I wanted it to come out when I’m 50.”
The singer songwriter, who turns 50 on Aug. 28, seemed to singlehandedly put midriff-baring crop-tops on the map in the mid-’90s. She still sports a fitness fanatic’s physique and said her recent two-year concert residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was occasionally frightening – she has struggled with anxiety and vocal issues – but that it came at the perfect time in life because it jolted her out of her comfort zone.
“It was personal and professional therapy.”
After more than 20 years of terrific character roles in television and film – including Oscar nominations for Doubt and The Help – Viola Davis is another veteran performer just now leaving familiar territory, in this case for a leap to leading lady superstardom.
The actress, turning 50 on Aug. 11, is a two-time Tony Award-winner for her stage work and now star of ABC’s latest Thursday night blockbuster, How to Get Away With Murder, in which she plays Annalise Keating, an iron-fisted defense attorney who is both in control – and possibly losing her mind.
Acknowledging that the soapy legal thriller was very different from anything she’d ever attempted, Davis said upon the show’s launch: “I did the only smart thing that any sensible actress would do. I took it. I dove at it.”
Performing on Broadway while also working in television is nothing new for many New York entertainers. But Scottish actor Alan Cumming spent the last year redefining this feat – starring in eight shows a week as the high-kicking Emcee in The Roundabout Theater’s revival of Cabaret – while also playing buttoned-up political operative Eli Gold in CBS’s long-running drama The Good Wife.
Cumming, who hit 50 on Jan. 27, won a 1998 Best Acting Tony for Cabaret and has been nominated for an Emmy for The Good Wife. He said he is more fit today than when he played the Emcee in the London production of Cabaret in 1993. In a column for The Globe and Mail of Canada, Cumming said he was proud of holding his own during rigorous dance numbers alongside performers in their 20s. For much of the performance he is shirtless, revealing the kind of sculpted abs and biceps that his Good Wife fans might be astounded to see.
“Turning 50 has been a breeze,” he wrote in the newspaper, comparing this milestone birthday to his angst-ridden 30th and 40th. “I have been longing to be 50 for ages, you see. I just like the sound of it. I like that people can’t believe it’s true.”
Also Fabulous at 50 (or turning so in 2015)
Kevin James, Ben Stiller, Jeremy Piven, Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Martin Lawrence, Trent Reznor, Gavin Rossdale, Elizabeth Hurley, Carrot Top, Kyle Chandler, Diane Lane and Charlie Sheen. Who did we leave out? Tweet us your favorites @CityShorePRIME with the hashtag #Prime50.