Experts share advice on aging gracefully in new HBO documentary

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It’s been nearly six decades since friends Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks created their character “The 2,000 Year Old Man,” which remains one of the most beloved comedy routines in history. Now, these Hollywood giants are garnering attention for their real-life longevity.

In an HBO documentary that premiered this week, If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast, Reiner, 95, pulled together Brooks and several of his other famous friends who continue to write, create, and entertain after hitting the big 9-0.

Reiner interviews Dick Van Dyke, who at 91 still sings, dances and just finished a role in the new Mary Poppins remake, and he catches up with Norman Lear, 95, who recently served as executive producer for a reboot of his 1980s show One Day at a Time, which premiered in January on Netflix.

Also featured is television pioneer Betty White, 95, who celebrated her 90th and 91st birthdays with television specials on NBC, and comic book writer and publisher Stan Lee, the former president of Marvel, who’s still writing, producing, and making cameo appearances in hit films at the age of 94.

Comedy gold

The title of the film comes from a joke that Reiner tells: “Every morning before having breakfast, I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section and see if I’m listed. If not, I’ll have my breakfast.”

Reiner and Brooks met over 60 years ago on the groundbreaking NBC comedy-variety series Your Show of Shows. Brooks, the Oscar-winning writer-director of comedy masterpieces such as 1968’s The Producers and 1974’s Young Frankenstein is among the youngest of those featured in the documentary. He turned 90 only last year. Since then, he’s served as executive producer on Blazing Samurai, an animated film due for release this summer that’s loosely based on his other 1974 classic, Blazing Saddles.

As one would expect from a project involving such comedy geniuses, the HBO documentary has plenty of humor. A review in The New York Times says the documentary “provides delightful evidence that there is plenty of life yet in the population born before the Great Depression.”

Words of wisdom

But the film also takes a serious look at the topic of longevity. Reiner wants to know why so many people, even some with failing health, are able to stay vital and creative into their 90s and beyond.

Kirk Douglas, who turned 100 in December, talks with Reiner about the severe stroke he suffered in 1996 that impaired his ability to speak and how he did not let that deter him from acting. In March 2009, at age 92, Douglas performed an autobiographical one-man show, Before I Forget, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California. The four performances were turned into a documentary released in 2010.

If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast also shines a light on inspirational non-celebrities who have defied their age by staying active and adventurous well past age 90.

Ida Keeling, 101, took up running at 67 and last year set a record for her age group in the 100-meter dash. She offers this piece of advice for those looking to stay healthy and vibrant long into their 90s: Put effort now into physical fitness.

That advice could well be echoed by fellow interview subjects Harriette Thompson, 93, the oldest woman to run and finish a marathon; Tao Porchon-Lynch, a 98-year-old yoga teacher, who also recently took up tango; and Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, 95, who fought in D-Day and still parachutes.

Younger participants include comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who’s already reserved the stage at Caesars Palace for his 100th birthday show; longevity expert Dan Buettner, and Van Dyke’s much-younger wife, Arlene, who says she’s got all she can handle keeping up with her husband on the dance floor.

Words to remember

As for Reiner, he says his secret to staying vital is to keep writing. His recently released book, Too Busy to Die, was a follow-up (of sorts) to 2014’s I Just Remembered, and 2015’s What I Forgot to Remember. Now he’s working on another project called, Approaching 96.

He says in the documentary that everyone needs a reason to want to get out of bed in the morning. Even if you have no intention of getting published, he says, writing is a wonderful way to stay connected to the world.

Fittingly, the film’s opening title song, The Best Is Yet to Come, is performed by Tony Bennett, 90, and the documentary closes with the original song Just Getting Started, co-written and performed by Oscar-winning composer Alan Bergman, 90.

Brad Wright is a guest contributor for 39forlife.com.

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