Old Action Heroes Don’t Die: They Don’t Even Retire
“I’m too old for this s—.” You know the line. Danny Glover says it in Lethal Weapon. And again in Lethal Weapon 2. And in 3 and 4 as well. Clearly, he’s not taking his own advice. Neither are a whole lot of other actors who refuse to act their age and go gently into the good night of dignified dramas and guest spots in dumb comedies.
It’s not anything new, mind you. John Wayne strolled into shootouts and muscled through high-speed chases well into his 60s, apparently driven by nothing but true grit, and Clark Gable and James Stewart and Randolph Scott played hard-riding heroes in Westerns through their 50s and 60s.
But while they could ride a horse at full gallop, trade punches like a street brawler, and leap from a hail of gunfire with the spring of a jackrabbit, they never had to jump from an exploding building or hang from a moving helicopter or take on an entire army single-handedly.
Today’s action spectacles are simply more physically demanding, which is what makes the conceit of Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables so much fun: a mercenary crew with a senior citizen wing that proves that age and guile and sheer doggedness trump youth and energy. Half of these guys (Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Gary Daniels) are either fast approaching the half-century mark or well past it, and the inevitable The Expendables 2 doubles down on the senior citizen population, expanding roles for Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and adding Jean-Claude Van Damme (well over 50) and Chuck Norris(over 70!) to the roster of old-school action icons. Apparently, age doesn’t bring wisdom, only obstinacy.
Here’s a gallery of older, not much wiser stars who, instead of easing gently into the next stage of their career or cashing those Social Security checks, chose to put their aging bodies through ordeals that would tax younger men. Don’t tell them that they’re too old for this s—.
Earned his spurs as Han Solo in Star Wars
Defining action-hero role: Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Kicking ass at age 68 in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
He became an action hero in Star Wars in 1977. He became the action hero in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. And at age 68, he donned the hat and picked up a bullwhip for one more globe-trotting romp with the bad boys in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Whether you like film or not (and it has faced some real hostility from fans of the original Indy trilogy), you have to give Harrison Ford credit for looking pretty good after all those miles. Heck, he’s in better shape than his beat-up fedora. There’s talk of yet another Indy film (it’s even listed on IMDb as “announced,” which is industry speak for “yeah, sure, maybe”), but please, let Indiana Jones retire with whatever dignity he has left and Harrison Ford ease into his twilight years without having to risk a coronary while chasing yet another leftover Nazi. This guy has earned his pension. And maybe a walker.