Look Who’s Turning 65
September 2 - Jimmy Connors
Jimmy Connors dominated the world of tennis in the 1970’s, wowing crowds with both his unique style of play and his antics on the court. Hoisting trophies for five US Opens, two Wimbledons and one Australian Open, Connors used a flat backhand and a steel racket to decimate his opponents.
He also quite famously flaunted the traditional decorum of the sport. Fans were sometimes shocked by his on-court antics, such as his one-finger salute to linesmen for a call he disagreed with. He was even booed at Wimbledon, but he seemed to gather strength from the energy of the crowd, positive or negative, and was known for his never-say-die commitment to every match.
The bad boy of tennis grew up coached by his mother and grandmother in a suburb of St. Louis. Although at 5’10” he was shorter than most of his competitors, his competitive nature more than made up for his stature.
"[T]here's always somebody out there who's willing to push it that extra inch, or mile, and that was me,” Connors laughed. “I didn't care if it took me 30 minutes or five hours. If you beat me, you had to be the best, or the best you had that day. But that was my passion for the game. If I won, I won, and if I lost, well, I didn't take it so well."
Connors peaked in 1979, but he continued to compete against much younger men. After wrist surgery in 1990, he came back to play 14 tournaments in 1991, the year he turned 39. His last major tournament was the 1992 US Open.
The tennis star was a commentator for a few years in the early 2000’s, and tried his hand at coaching in 2006 and again in 2013, for stints of 19 months and one month. Famously engaged to fellow tennis pro Chris Evert, they split up for good in 1978. After an engagement to Miss World Marjorie Wallace also failed, Connors married Playboy model Patti McGuire.
In 2005, Connors had a hip replaced. His autobiography The Outsider won a British Sports Book Award in 2013.
September 16 – Mickey Rourke
Mickey Rourke wanted to be a boxer when he grew up. His first bout was at age 12, and it wasn’t until he was sidelined by a concussion that he took a friend up on his suggestion to try out for an acting role.
Rourke got starring roles in a variety of drama, action, and thriller films. He was popular in the U.S. and Europe during the 1980’s, when he was a leading man in Rumble Fish, 9 1/2 Weeks, Barfly, Angel Heart, and many more.
But Rourke’s personal life began to affect his career. “Working with Mickey is a nightmare,” director Alan Parker stated. “He is very dangerous on the set because you never know what he is going to do.”
In 1991, Rourke left acting because he felt that he “was self-destructing”. The 39-year-old returned to the boxing ring. Promoters gave him little chance of success due to his age, but Rourke was undefeated in eight bouts, with six wins and two draws. Although boxing helped heal some inner wounds, it left plenty of physical ones.
A broken nose, toe and ribs, a split tongue, a compressed cheekbone and short-term memory loss were all souvenirs from Rourke’s boxing days. His face would need reconstructive surgery, but the result of going to “the wrong guy” left his features “a mess”. Even so, after Rourke retired for good from boxing in 1994, he was able to get supporting roles in films such as The Rainmaker and Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
But Rourke considered himself a “has-been” and began weekly meetings with a psychiatrist and sought help from a Catholic priest. He credits the two, along with his agent, for a mainstream comeback in 2005 with a lead role in action thriller Sin City, for which he won several honors and was nominated for an Academy Award. Since then, Rourke has appeared in a host of commercially successful films.
Rourke says that it’s not only the trio of professionals who helped him pull through the dark times. The actor is known as a pet lover, and has owned several Chihuahua-type dogs. Rourke told Barbara Walters at the 2009 Golden Globes, “I sort of self-destructed and everything came out about 14 years ago or so ... the wife had left, the career was over, the money was not an ounce. The dogs were there when no one else was there."
A spay/neuter advocate, Rourke has also done a public service announcement for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “Sometimes when a man’s alone, that’s all you got is your dog,” Rourke says.
September 25 – Christopher Reeve
Although he excelled at athletics and academics, the famous actor found his passion at the age of nine when he performed in a student operetta. Reeve continued acting while attending Cornell College and Juilliard, where he was a theater major with comic Robin Williams, with whom he would remain close throughout his life.
In 1978, Reeve took on the part he became best known for. He decided when he read for Superman that he’d base his Clark Kent on the kinder, gentler masculinity that was becoming more accepted. He liked the challenge of the dual role, saying, “There must be some difference stylistically between Clark and Superman. Otherwise, you just have a pair of glasses standing in for a character.”
But even after he got selected, there was work to do. Reeve had handsome features, but his body was on the skinny side for a superhero, and he refused to wear a muscle suit. Instead, he trained intensely for two months, running every morning, weightlifting for two hours each afternoon and spending another 90 minutes on the trampoline. He added thirty pounds of muscle with the help of a high-protein diet, and went from 189 pounds to a muscly 219 pounds on his 6’4” frame.
In the early 80’s, Reeve flew solo across the Atlantic twice, and raced his sailplane when he wasn’t filming Superman III. He participated in mock dogfights with vintage WWI planes as an honorary member of the Tiger Club, a group of British aviators who had fought in the Battle of Britain.
Reeve continued to act in the late 80’s, but he also became even more active. He trained five or six days a week on horseback for difficult combined training events. He built The Sea Angel, a sailboat he piloted from Chesapeake to Nova Scotia. He became politically active and served on the board of the Charles Lindbergh Fund to promote environmentally safe technologies, while supporting many causes such as Amnesty International. Reeve even flew to Chile in 1987 and led a protest march to save the lives of 77 actors threatened with execution by dictator Augusto Pinochet.
But it was a tragic accident in May of 1995 that tested Reeve’s character more than ever before and showed the world what a real-life Superman is made of. Reeve fell off his horse when it refused a jump at a competition, and his spine and skull were severed. He had to use a breathing tube the rest of his life, and endured many surgeries and infections as a quadriplegic.
Battling depression early on, Reeve contemplated suicide. But it was the dedication of his wife and a visit by a strange doctor who helped pull him through. Alone, waiting for the surgery to reattach his skull and spine, a short doctor wearing yellow scrubs entered the room. He announced that he was Reeve’s proctologist, ready to do an exam. When the doctor got closer, Reeve burst into laughter for the first time since his accident: it was his old friend, Robin Williams.
Reeve lived in hope of a cure for spinal cord injury, and raised money and awareness for the cause, traveling as far as Israel to encourage research. He also continued to act, tried his hand at directing and dictated his autobiography, Still Me. But America’s Superman was proven mortal in the end.
Christopher Reeve died in 2004 from complications due to his many health issues. His wife died two years later from lung cancer. His two eldest children continue to run The Christopher Reeve Foundation.
FAMOUS & 65 is a featured article in the Senior Spirit newsletter.
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