Youth rules in Hollywood. That’s been the case since the earliest days of silent films, and it’s still true today. Even the best actresses, no matter how accomplished, receive fewer roles, and less prestigious roles, as they move into middle age and beyond. Leading men and character actors can hang on to the limelight a few more years, but even they eventually begin losing those roles to younger actors. Then there are those performers who somehow manage to buck the youth trend and continue landing prime roles well into their later years. Here’s a look at five timeless stars who are still going strong well into their sixth, seventh, eighth or even ninth decade in entertainment. They haven’t been around forever … but it sure seems like it.
5. Sally Field
Field has been around so long that it’s been almost 20 years since she played the role of an aging mother to a middle-aged son in Forrest Gump (1994). By then, she’d already won two Oscars for Best Actress, for her turns in Norma Rae (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984). Long before those roles, however, she began her career in television as a teen in the mid-1960s, first in the short-lived surfer sitcom Gidget, then in the sitcom The Flying Nun. For those too young to have heard of that show, the title covers the whole plot line — Field played a nun who flew around from one adventure to another. No wonder Field says she got typecast in the role, which almost killed her career before it really got started. Field may be best known to younger viewers for her Emmy-winning role in the ABC drama Brothers & Sisters, which ended a five-year run in 2011.
4. Jeff Bridges
Bridges is still landing marquee roles as he enters his later years. He finally won a long-awaited Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a washed-up country singer in the 2009 film Crazy Heart, then followed that up a year later with a Best Actor nomination for his turn as Rooster Cogburn in the popular remake of True Grit. Bridges’ recent run of success is merely the proverbial icing on the cake of a long film and TV career that has included such films as The Last Picture Show (1972) and Starman (1984), not to mention his comedic performance as “The Dude” in the 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski. Bridges began his acting career at age 8, appearing with his father, Lloyd Bridges, on the popular TV show Sea Hunt.
3. Cloris Leachman
Leachman’s career has defied conventional wisdom about show business, in that the actress began landing her best-known and most successful roles in middle age. Born in 1926, she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar at age 45 for her performance in The Last Picture Show. More than 40 years later, however, she’s still best remembered as the nosy landlady, Phyllis Lindstrom, in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which spun off the short-lived show, Phyllis. Leachman has remained extremely active in her 80s, appearing in two, three or even four movies each of the past several years, not to mention her performance at age 82 in Dancing With the Stars. Those DWTS appearances came 61 years after she made her film debut in an uncredited role in the 1947 film Carnegie Hall.
2. Betty White
The beloved White, now age 90, has never been more popular. In her ninth decade in show business, White got her start in the industry in 1939, when at age 17 she sang a few songs for an experimental show on a Los Angeles TV station. By the early 1950s, White was starring in a sitcom, Life With Elizabeth. White is best known to audiences today through her portrayal of Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls, which lives on in reruns, as well as her role in the current TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland.
1. Clint Eastwood
More than a half century before he supercharged the Twittersphere by talking to an empty chair at a political convention, Eastwood landed his first big role in Hollywood in 1959 at age 28, as the second lead in the CBS Western series Rawhide. Eastwood played the role of cowboy Rowdy Yates, finally earning top billing for the show’s eighth and final season. By then, Eastwood had already launched his film career, appearing in three so-called “spaghetti westerns” that helped define his tough-guy image. In his latest project, Trouble with the Curve (2012), the 82-year-old Eastwood portrays an aging baseball scout.