9 people who found success after 50 and what we can learn from them

Our screens and Spotify playlists may be infested with fresh-faced 20-something wannabes, but fame and glory isn’t the sole reserve of the acne-plagued, Instagram-filtered and smoothed-skinned brigade. Paul Merrill uncovers some late-blossoming celebrity stories that prove, our best years really can be well after we turn 50…

By Paul Merrill

Brekkie sex symbol David Koch 

Kochie was always an unlikely king of breakfast TV. The slightly dour financial journalist filled in as a temporary host of Sunrise on Channel Seven at the ripe old age (for daytime TV anyway) of 45.

But temporary it was not! All the way through his 50s and early 6os the Port Adelaide tragic reigned supreme as bone fide mature totty for ladies of a certain age. Soon after his retirement in 2023, he even opened up about his zesty new sex life, bragging that it made him even more exhausted than all those early mornings!

What can we learn from Kochie?

It’s never too late for a sneaky career switch to something more exciting, even if it means a 4am start.

Bond commander Judi Dench

The Oscar-winning screen doyen had been a TV and stage actress for decades when she suddenly shot to fame at 50 in 1995 as the first female M in the 007 outing, Goldeneye.

But the resected thespian was only just getting going, scooping an Oscar three years later for Shakespeare in Love, appearing in six more Bonds and becoming one of the few actors of her generation to continue landing leading roles.

Her career even survived the humiliation of playing a freakish feline in Cats.

What can we learn from Judi?

The cream always rises to the top, though sometimes it’s glacially slow.

TV’s biggest boss at 77 - Ita Buttrose 

After a glittering career in newspapers, magazines and TV, Ita was 77 when she was appointed chair of the ABC in 2019 and, you guessed it, 81 at the end of her four-year stint in March 2024.

And anyone who thought the former Beauty and the Beast star would be a pushover had a surprise in store. She stood her ground as Aunty took flak from unions, talkback radio, politicians, newspapers and a motley succession of online trolls who were only happy when they were miserable.

What can we learn from Ita?

If you love what you do, only you will decide when to call it quits. Oh, and red lipstick is a powerful statement at any age.

Samuel L Jackson – still cool at 75

The screen legend officially put the ‘rizz’ in charisma and became Hollywood’s highest-grossing actor of all time – even though he only found fame at 46.

His unforgettable turn as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction propelled him to further cinematic greatness across both the Marvel and Star Wars universes. Still a kick ass action hero well into his eighth decade, he’s currently working on a martial arts comedy, a western and a Japanese manga drama.

What can we learn from Samuel?

That the path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men… so the first person to say “retirement” gets both barrels.

No Rush to be famous for Geoffrey

Arguably Australia’s greatest living actor, Geoffrey Rush spent 27 years cutting his teeth in the theatre before bouncing on the trampoline of fame in Shine. He won an Oscar for his heartbreaking turn as troubled pianist David Helfgott and then spent his 50s and 60s swashing buckles in the Pirates of the Caribbean, oozing erotic sadism as the Marquis de Sade in Quills and teaching a king to speak in The King’s Speech.

What can we learn from Geoffrey?

That pretending to be a villain is never boring and should be encouraged at all times. 

The ‘shocking’ Murray Bartlett

Few outside Australia had heard of Murray Bartlett until his flamboyantly deranged performance as hotel manager Armond in 2021’s The White Lotus. The wickedly dark dramady became the year’s most talked about show, and a couple of Murray’s scenes became the most shrieked about TV moments of that, or any, year.

Soon his diary and trophy cabinet were filling up faster than the hotel’s complaints file, and he was parachuted into major US shows including The Last of Us and Welcome to Chippendales.

What can we learn from Murray?

That shocking all the right people is much more fun when you’re older than most of them. 

God-like Morgan Freeman

With a voice like velvety treacle being poured over warm gravel, Morgan Freeman has cornered the market in melodious, authoritative doco commentaries, playing charming older gentlemen and channeling God. Mark Zuckerberg loves his vocal cords so much, he uses them for his AI home assistant.

So it’s odd that the legendary Oscar winner only became a star at 52 when he donned a chauffeur’s cap in Driving Miss Daisy. After school, he’d spent four years repairing radars in the US Air Force, and when he took acting classes, he was advised to become a dancer instead!

What’s more amazing still is that, despite such a late start, he’s still clocked up some 111 movies!

What we can learn from Morgan

That a voice alone can have sex appeal, no matter the age of its owner.

Funny, feisty, film fan Margaret Pomeranz 

The veteran TV film critic spent a stonking 28 years squaring up to discuss celluloid with David Stratton and then eight more (and counting) with Graeme Blundell as she approaches her 80th birthday in July 2024.

But the Order of Australia winner was a reluctant presenter, only agreeing to present The Movie Show in 1986 aged 46 because SBS couldn’t find anyone else. Luckily, she and her bearded foil (who was already 65 when they started) became an institution, bickering, flirting and animatedly praising or ripping to shreds thousands of big screen productions.

What can we learn from Margaret?

That a five-star career can begin well into your second act.

Late goal scorer Hannah Waddingham

After 25 years of bit parts and rejections, musical theatre performer Hannah Waddingham had all but given up on fame. The single mum had also vowed that she’d never let an acting role keep her away from her young daughter.

Step forward goofy US soccer coach Ted Lasso, and Hannah’s world changed beyond all recognition, with a slew of major awards and worldwide acclaim.  Best of all, the series was filmed a 30-minute drive from her London home!

Now, a few weeks before her 50th birthday in July 2024, she’s signed on for Tom Cruise’s next Mission Impossible outing, Ryan Gosling’s The Fall Guy and released her first album.

What can we learn from Hannah?

Suddenly becoming a megastar doesn’t mean you can’t be home in time for tea.

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