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In seven years it is projected that people in the world over age 65 will outnumber those under age 5 for the first time in history.
Fortunately for our society, older people in nearly every walk of life are more active and productive than their counterparts were a generation ago. Many say age 60 is the new 40 and age 80 is the new 60, and there is some evidence to back those claims.
Perhaps the best example is Betty White, the 88-year-old actress who hosted "Saturday Night Live" May 8, is co-starring in a new situation comedy debuting next month on the TV Land cable network, co-starred in one of last year's biggest hit movies, "The Proposal," and has guested on nearly every talk show on television in the last couple of months.
And White did not make just a brief appearance on "Saturday Night Live." After delivering her opening monologue, she was featured in nearly every skit on the 90-minute program, which became the series' highest-rated episode in the last 18 months. And if she used cue cards or a teleprompter to help her remember any of her numerous lines, it was not obvious.
She remarked in her monologue that she had done live television before, in 1952, and added, "Back then we didn't want to do it live — we just didn't know how to tape things. I don't know what this show's excuse is."
A funny line, but she was not exaggerating.
She won the first of her six Emmy awards in 1952 for her situation comedy, "Life With Elizabeth."
Jay Leno, whom NBC tried to retire a year ago, correctly remarked to White recently that he was only 2 years old when she won that Emmy.
Yet White is popular with college students and 20-somethings who have never even heard of her early situation comedies or even game shows such as "Password" and "Match Game" on which White displayed her quick wit and intelligence in the 1960s and '70s.
A few years ago, any performer White's age would not have been given the opportunity to remain active on the stage and screen. In those days networks said it was hard to obtain insurance for a production with an elderly star, so if a show featured an older character, they would hire someone middle-aged and use makeup to make them appear older.
Most performers then had their publicists shave two to five years off their real ages. Biographies of White published 25 years ago listed her birth date as Jan. 17, 1924, instead of 1922.
She now embraces her age, though. On "Saturday Night Live" she said she is 88 1⁄2, even though at the time she was not quite 88 and four months.
We believe encouraging older citizens to remain as active as they want is a welcome trend, and White should inspire many octogenarians to realize they can still lead productive lives. As The Olympian newspaper of Olympia, Wash., said in an editorial Thursday, "No society can function well if a large proportion of its population is deemed obsolete. ... As a role model, few beat the spunk of Betty White. Long live the Golden Girl!"
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