‘Aging Successfully’?

Turn 70. Act Your Grandchild’s Age: “Ringo Starr celebrated his 70th birthday last week by playing at Radio City Music Hall and saying his new hero is B. B. King, still jamming in his 80s. Joining Mr. Starr in his 70s next year will be the still-performing Bob Dylan (“May you stay forever young”) and Paul Simon (“How terribly strange to be 70”). Following soon after will be Roger Daltrey (“Hope I die before I get old”) and Mick Jagger, who is reported to have said, several grandchildren ago, “I’d rather be dead than singing ‘Satisfaction’ at 45.”

A rock ’n’ roll septuagenarian was someone the gerontologist Robert Butler could have only dreamed of in 1968, when he coined the term “ageism” to describe the way society discriminates against the old. Dr. Butler, a psychiatrist, died, at age 83, a few days before Ringo’s big bash. No one, his colleagues said, had done more to improve the image of aging in America. His work established that the old did not inevitably become senile, and that they could be productive, intellectually engaged, and active — sexually and otherwise. His life provided a good example: He worked until three days before his death from acute leukemia.

But as much as Dr. Butler would have cheered an aging Beatle onstage, his colleagues said he would have also cautioned against embracing the opposite stereotype — the idea that “aging successfully,” in his phrase, means that you have to be banging on drums in front of thousands — or still be acting like you did at 22 or 42. That stereotype is almost as enduring as ageism itself.” (NYTimes.com)