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30 stars who hit their stride late in life

  • 30 stars who hit their stride late in life

    People may frequently hear that it’s never too late to pursue their goals. However, as many people approach midlife, it sometimes seems like the window of opportunity for fulfilling their dreams begins closing rapidly. But the world is full of people who didn’t accomplish their goals or make it big until much later in life. Just look at celebrities, for example. Sure, there are the Justin Biebers of the world who were discovered by talent agents or hit the jackpot with a lucky YouTube video. But by and large, a more common success story in Hollywood comes from folks who achieved it the old-fashioned way: through hard work and perseverance. 

    Ask anyone who’s achieved significant success about their early days and most of them will tell you stories about suffering through grueling auditions, waking up early to write a screenplay, working on late-night business plans, bussing tables to afford headshots, or other dues they had to pay. On top of that, most of them at one point or another were told that their goals were crazy or just pipe dreams. Some of these people managed to prove others wrong right away. Others, however, had to wait until later in life—some in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s. Yet when they finally did, the success tasted all the more sweeter.

    In an effort to honor these celebrities who didn’t know the meaning of the phrase “to give up,” Stacker has put together a slideshow of 30 stars who didn’t achieve major success until later in life. Although many of these people had been working at their craft for years, none of them had a big breakthrough until midlife, most of them not until they were at least 40 years old. Take a look at their stories to gain some inspiration and for a reminder that it really is never too late. 

    You may also like: Late bloomers in sports

  • #1. Liam Neeson

    Liam Neeson worked primarily as a stage actor in the late 1970s and ‘80s, though he had a few roles in films such as “The Bounty” with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. However, it wasn't until his breakout role as the title character in Steven Spielberg's 1993 drama “Schindler's List”—released when Neeson was 42—that he became a serious name in Hollywood.

  • #2. Betty White

    Given the strong association with the beloved, ditzy character Rose that she played on the hit TV show “The Golden Girls,” many people forget that Betty White had a career before that. However, it didn't begin in full force until the actor was 51, when she played the role of Sue Ann on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Today the 97 year old is mostly known for her extraordinary youthfulness that has inspired internet memes and given her a cult following among millennials.

  • #3. Toni Morrison

    Award-winning author Toni Morrison spent the first part of her life working as an English professor and editor at Random House publishing. During this time she used to wake up at 4 a.m. to write fiction, she told The Guardian, meeting regularly with writer's groups at Howard University.

    In 1970, when she was almost 40 years old, she published her first novel “The Bluest Eye.” Over the next decade and a half she gained increasing recognition, winning several book awards, but it was 1987's “Beloved” that turned her into a world-renowned celebrity at age 56. The first book in Morrison's unofficial-if-self-described trilogy (which also includes “Jazz” and “Paradise”) spent 25 weeks on the best-seller list and the third one earned her the Nobel Prize in Literature—making her the first African American to ever win the award.

  • #4. Bryan Cranston

    Bryan Cranston didn't get his first major breakout role until he played Hal on “Malcolm in the Middle,” a Fox TV show that aired in 2000 when Cranston was 43—already a late bloomer. But it was really the AMC smash hit “Breaking Bad,” which launched when he was 51, that made his career soar to new heights. Cranston played the infamous Walter White, a chemistry teacher who sold drugs and descended into darkness.

  • #5. Jane Lynch

    Jane Lynch was 40 before she became a cult film star for her role as Christy Cummings in Christopher Guest's 2000 mockumentary “Best in Show,” and almost 50 before gaining widespread recognition for her role in “Glee,” the Fox TV show where she played high school cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. When asked what she knows now that she wishes she'd known when she was younger, she told the Huffington Post: “I know now that whatever is right in front of me is exactly where I am supposed to be. I was always afraid that the parade was passing me by—so much so that I would miss out on what was great about the moment I was in.”

  • #6. Ang Lee

    Today, Taiwanese director Ang Lee is a huge name in Hollywood as the creative genius behind films such as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Life of Pi.” But it wasn't always that way. Lee was 41 before he made his first English-language film, “Sense and Sensibility,” and 45 before “Crouching Tiger” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards.

  • #7. Helen Mirren

    British actor Helen Mirren was a well-recognized name in theater early in life, but her face was hardly known to the rest of the world. In the 1980s, she dabbled in films and television, but her breakout TV role didn't come until she was in her mid-40s and played Jane Tennison in the British TV series “Prime Suspect.”

    She was nominated for Oscars in 1994 and 2001, and then reached mega-celebrity status at age 61 when she starred in the 2006 drama “The Queen,” winning an Oscar for Best Actress and achieving the “Triple Crown of Acting” (Tony, Emmy, and an Oscar). A palm reader predicted her future when she was young, according to Mirren: “He said, 'You will have success in your life—you will be very successful—but you won't reach your pinnacle of success until later on in your life, after you're 40 ... and he was right."

  • #8. Morgan Freeman

    The fact that Morgan Freeman has been so wildly successful for 30 years makes it easy to forget that the Tennessee native was 50 when it all started. That was the year he was nominated for an Oscar for “Street Smart”—an honor that preceded his Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win two years later for “Driving Miss Daisy.” In total, Freeman has been nominated for five Oscars, winning in 2004 for “Million Dollar Baby.”

  • #9. Ricky Gervais

    The original British version of Ricky Gervais' hit TV show “The Office” didn't air until he was 40 years old; the more successful American version, which truly made him a star on a global level, was released when he was 44. After that, however, it was swift success as the comedian continued riding the wave from the show.

  • #10. Judi Dench

    Similarly to Helen Mirren, British actor Judi Dench was enormously successful for her stage work, but relatively unknown outside that arena until later in life when she played M, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, in 1995's James Bond film “Goldeneye.” She was 60 at the time. After that, Dench shot to fame, receiving seven Academy Award nominations and winning for Best Supporting Actress at age 64.

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