What Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Levar Burton, and Valerie Harper said at AARP’s Ideas@50+

AARP’s “Ideas@50+” Conference in San Diego hosted some of the most beloved actors of our time.

Who can forget Valerie Harper as Rhoda on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Or LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte in the ABC mini-series, Roots, based on the book by Alex Haley?

They joined for a panel on one of AARP’s keynote topics – Life Reimagined – an effort to empower and attract baby boomers to re-create themselves, discover a meaningful work-life balance, and earn new life skills. AARP volunteer leaders offered their own stories on health, financial security and enjoyment in our 50+ years.

Also on hand on a panel that discussed the convergence of Hollywood and Washington, D.C. were Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep).

Here are my observations and some inspiring comments these amazing actors made on life as a baby boomer –

Kevin SpaceyKevin Spacey

Spacey was serious and hilarious at the same time. He did a spot on imitation of President Bill Clinton commenting on shows about Washington.

I had forgotten that Spacey produced the movie The Social Network, which was about the beginnings of Facebook. That effort and his work with director David Fincher, led to the conception of the House of Cards series, now popular among “binge-watchers” on Netflix.

“We had a very big runway to develop the characters”, said Spacey. He credits his time away from film running a theater company for a decade as making him “a better actor – someone ready to play Frank Underwood.”

Kevin Spacey’s advice to boomers: “Build your life correctly – six years out – and accept and learn from the failures that will now lead you to that success.”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ breakout role was the funny and ridiculous Elaine Benes on Seinfeld. It was a show about nothing. And that was its genius.

Louis-Dreyfus was fixated on the death of Joan Rivers – said she was doing stand-up comedy the night before the procedure she never recovered from. She was clearly touched by Rivers, one of the greatest comedians of all time.

Dreyfus showed a softer side of herself than you see in the characters she plays. She talked about the excitement she feels playing fictional Vice President Selena Meyer on Veep, and the value of taking some years off after Seinfeld.

“I had my kids while on Seinfeld – and I was ready for it to end. I needed a break,” said Louis-Dreyfus. She zeroed in at home, but has always wanted something to look forward to – “even if it was just chicken for dinner.”

It was that simplicity and time with family that made her the comedic talent she is today.

LeVar Burton 

LeVar Burton’s role in Roots propelled him at the young age of 19 to become one of the most celebrated actors of our time. We all watched the mini-series when it debuted back in 1977. Burton had studied for the priesthood for four years then pursued acting at USC. He found acting his way of communicating through spirit, emotion and a sense of community.

On the amazing actresses who played his Grandmother and Mother in Roots – “I didn’t know to be intimidated by Cecily Tyson and Maya Angelou – if I had known then what I know now, I would have been terrified!”

Burton’s passion for Reading Rainbow was inspired by his mother, who felt reading was mandatory –

“I am the man I became because she was the woman that she was.” His mother’s inspiration impacted his thoughts on reading today – “Do we teach our children how to read or do we inspire them to have a love for reading?”

Burton was clearly proud of his crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter, which raised the Reading Rainbow some $5.4 million from more than 105,000 donors.

Valerie HarperValerie Harper

The most inspiring of the four for me was clearly Valerie Harper, who is battling brain cancer. She looked fabulous at 75. She had lung cancer in 2009 and had been in remission. She went in to get checked for brain cancer, realizing something was wrong when she couldn’t remember her lines one day.

“I was supposed to be dead a year ago last Easter. But I realized that I was not done living.”

Harper went public and went on Dancing With the Stars because of the media, who falsely reported her condition. She wanted to tell the story her way – and indeed she has.

“Every day I say I’m grateful for something and I forgive someone.”

Words to live by, especially today.


Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons & Kevin Spacey on Facebook.

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