People in the United States are living longer today than ever before. Current numbers show that the average life span is almost 79 years, with women slightly outliving men.
Forecasts are calling for more of the same — a female child born this year has a better than one in ten chance to live to be 100, a male child has a one in twenty chance for the same life expectancy.
Additionally, gerontologists predict that females turning 65 today will probably blow out at least 86 birthday candles, while males in same demographic can expect to live to be at least 84.
At least anecdotally, it also seems that the older population is more productive, more involved than we have noted in the past.
A recent example of someone who has just turned 90 and is still active was in the news this week — actor, author, and general all around celebrated personality, Orson Bean, who hit that milestone birthday on July 22. Bean is now officially a nonagenarian: yet, he seems to be anything but acting his age.
This is hard on the heels of the solo show Bean performed at the same theater two years ago. That show was titled “Safe at Home,” based on his autobiography (the book, which is highly readable, is still available on Amazon; the stage show can be seen on YouTube, both worth your time).
For those baby boomers who have reached certain birthdays themselves, Bean may be a familiar face: he spent years in various successful television programs, notably a long run as a panelist on the popular game show, “To Tell The Truth.”
His resume includes more than 200 appearances as a guest on the “Tonight Show” (100 guest host appearances) with both Johnny Carson and Jack Paar.
As Bean recounts in his most recent book (he’s written four in total), his one big show business misstep was turning Neil Simon down to co-star with Walter Matthau in the iconic, “The Odd Couple.”
Although I was aware of him as personality, my own introduction to Bean came when I was studying psychology in college. A professor recommended to me Bean’s account of his experiences in therapy, “Me and the Orgone.” The therapist, Dr. Elsworth Baker, was a disciple of the controversial Wilhelm Reich; much has been written about the latter, Bean’s book is the only narrative ever written from a Reichian patient’s point of view. As such, it is a worthwhile read.
Anyone who digests “Me and the Orgone” will quickly figure out that Bean is anything but the glib, lightweight entertainer — the depth of intellect and insight is obvious.
In the mid 1960’s, Bean became interested in the approach to education that A.S. Neill was using at Summerhill, an English boarding school that emphasized non-coercive methodology.
Summerhill’s slogan, “founded in 1921 and still ahead of its time” is an accurate depiction of the school’s atmosphere.
Putting his money where his mouth was, Bean invested thousands of dollars to buy a property on 15th street in New York to establish a school based on the Summerhill model. He eventually brought A.S. Neill over from England to inspect the result.
If any of this interests you, please pick up a copy of any of Bean’s books. Probably “Safe at Home” is the most comprehensive. You will discover his life’s voyage in several arenas — more than just entertainment and education. Along the way, he has had to overcome some very arduous episodes, including the suicide of his alcoholic mother; the breakup of his second marriage was also a traumatic ordeal, one which Bean quite openly reviews.
These days he remains devoted to his family, active in his profession, and rarest of all, a man of faith in a community not particularly devoted to same.
There’s a lot to admire about Orson Bean — and a lot to learn as well. Especially about aging with grace, open acceptance of new ideas and the firm foundation family life offers.