A Hollywood legend gave the best retort to ageism

Quotable Norman Lear.
Quotable Norman Lear.
Image: Marla Aufmuth / TED
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As elder members of Hollywood’s elite parade down the red carpet for the Academy Awards this Sunday, inevitably comments will turn to their age. For women in particular, those comments can be quite nasty: Sixty-nine-year-old Susan Sarandon, for example received a hailstorm of criticism for wearing a cleavage-baring outfit to the Screen Actor’s Guild awards last month.

Like the lack of racial diversity in Oscar nominations, which became a hot topic this year, ageism has been a perennial problem in the youth-oriented entertainment industry. But the legendary Hollywood producer Norman Lear offered a delicious retort last week to a question about his age:

“How old do you feel?” the 93-year-old was asked at the TED conference in Vancouver last week. Without skipping a beat, the producer of iconic shows including All in the Family, Sanford and SonsThe Jeffersons, and Good Times replied:

“I am the peer of whoever I am talking to.”

Over his lifetime, Lear has had several careers: as a radio operator in the military, a screenwriter, a hall-of-fame Hollywood producer and a First Amendment activist. Still actively working today—he has recently been promoting his first book—Lear describes his life as “one giant collaboration,” and finds vitality in his frequent partnerships with artists of all ages and races.

In the conversation with video game publisher Activision’s CEO Eric Hirschberg at TED, Lear cited a panel with hip hop artists at last year’s Emmy Awards as among the most indelible moments of his career. His hit 1970s sitcoms were among the first to tackle racial politics on prime time television.

Lear was the oldest TED speaker in the conference’s history, and he ribbed the audience for making so much of it. “When I was 89, I didn’t get this kind of reception,” he joked as he received a rousing ovation. “When I turned 90, you guys went nuts.”