14 Celebrities Who Didn't Become Famous Until After 50
These stars caught their big break later in life and then made the most of it.
It seems like there's always a hot, young actor or singer taking the world by storm, even though they're barely out of high school. And while finding success at any age is a great thing, it's also encouraging to hear stories of those who found their niche later in life. After all, not everyone who sets out to make a living in the entertainment business actually does so right away. The following list of stars didn't really become "Stars" with a capital "S" until they were in their 50s. Some of them were successful stage performers who ended up getting big breaks in movies or TV. Some of them were living relatively normal lives until reality TV came knocking. And one of them was involved in an early version of the CIA before taking a really big career turn. Read on to find out more about 14 celebrities who became famous after 50.
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Cookbook author and television chef Julia Child was in a very different line of work before she got into cooking. During World War II, she worked for the Office of Strategic Services, an intelligence agency that was a predecessor of the CIA. She eventually became the Chief of the OSS Registry and worked in Sri Lanka and China. Child got into cooking when her husband was sent to Paris for his job. She was 49 years old when her debut cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was released, and her show, The French Chef, premiered when she was 51.
Only missing two seasons, Joy Behar has been a host on The View since the show premiered in 1997, when she was 55. But while the daytime show is what made her a star, she was involved in the entertainment world before that. Behar was a producer for Good Morning America, a standup comedian, and appeared in small parts in TV series and movies.
Another talk show host who came to fame in his 50s is Regis Philbin. The host of Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee was 57 when the show premiered, and he continued co-hosting the series until 2011 with a new co-host, Kelly Ripa. Prior to hosting daytime TV, Philbin was a page for The Tonight Show and was featured on The Joey Bishop Show in the '60s. He then hosted various shows with different levels of success until he rose to nationwide fame in the late '80s.
Austrian-German actor Christoph Waltz had been acting for years before he became famous. He made a living as an actor, but came to fame when he was cast in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which was released in 2009 when Waltz was 53. "I've done so many jobs because I've had to, not because I've wanted to," Waltz told The Guardian in 2015. "And it's honorable to do a job because you need to feed your children, and maybe there is also something in it for your development as an actor. But only up to a point. Frustration can get the better of anyone. And I dread to imagine what would have happened to me had it not been for Quentin."
Kathryn Joosten began acting on film and TV in her mid-40s—which is already later than many actors—but her biggest roles came when she was in her 60s. While Joosten has appeared on many TV series, she is best known for playing Dolores Landingham, the secretary to the president, on The West Wing, and Karen McCluskey on Desperate Housewives.
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Fans of London's West End theater might have known her much sooner, but Helen Mirren skyrocketed into worldwide fame skyrocketed when she was around her fiftieth year. She began starring on the TV series Prime Suspects when she was 46, and she was nominated for her first Oscar—Best Supporting Actress for The Madness of King George—in 1995 when she was 50 years old. Her career has only grown as the years pass, and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Queen at 62.
Much like Mirren, Judi Dench was primarily a theater performer for the beginning of her career. While she'd had many TV and film roles over the years, her transition to being famous for on-screen work came in the '80s and '90s. For instance, she was 51 when A Room with a View was released in 1985. She went on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning the award for Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love in 1999 when she was 65.
Moving into the reality TV world, Ramona Singer rose to fame on The Real Housewives of New York City. She was on the show from the start and stars on the Bravo series to this day. The series premiered in 2008 when Singer was 52. At the time that she joined the show, she was the founder of RMS Fashions, a wholesale business, and she had a jewelry company called True Faith Jewelry.
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Lisa Vanderpump is another Real Housewife who joined the reality TV franchise in her 50s . She joined Season 1 of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills when she was 50 and remained on the series for nine years. Vanderpump was a restauranteur when she joined the show, and she still is today. In fact, the employees at one of her restaurants became the basis for a spinoff called Vanderpump Rules, on which she also appeared. Prior to her reality TV fame, from the '80s to the '90s, Vanderpump worked as an actor, appearing in music videos and in small parts on TV.
It may seem like Morgan Freeman has always been on the A-list, but his breakout movie role came when he was 50 and starred in 1987's Street Smart, for which he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Prior to that, he was primarily known for starring on the children's TV series The Electric Company. His career took off in the late '80s with roles in Glory and Driving Miss Daisy coming soon after Street Smart.
We now enter the Golden Girls section of the list. Betty White's entertainment career began in the late '30s, and she was successful in the biz long before she became truly famous. She started off hosting variety and talk shows and appearing on game shows, but one of her biggest TV roles came in 1973 when she began appearing on The Mary Tyler Moore Show at age 51. In 1985, she landed the role she is best known for, Rose Nyland on The Golden Girls, at 63.
White's Golden Girls co-star Bea Arthur also came to fame in her 50s. Arthur was a member of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve during World War II, but after that she decided to become an actor. Her career began in theater, and she had her breakout TV role in 1971 as Maude on All in the Family when she was 49. The character then got her own spinoff, Maude, which ran for six seasons. A few years later, Arthur was cast as Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls.
Dorothy's mother on Golden Girls, Sophia Petrillo, was played by Estelle Getty, who was actually a year younger than Arthur. Like many of the celebrities listed here, Getty was a theater actor first. But, Sophia is the role she is best known for. She was cast as the eldest Golden Girl—and playing at least a couple decades older than her real age—when she was 62 years old. (By the way, the fourth Golden Girl, Rue McClanahan, doesn't make the cut. Her break came when she co-starred on Maude in her late 30s.)
Like many of the other actors here, Jane Lynch was at least somewhat known before she became very famous. Lynch had appeared in the films Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and The 40-Year-old Virgin, and in the series The L Word, among many other projects, before she began receiving more attention for her performances. 2010 was a big year for her in particular. She received an Emmy nomination for Two and a Half Men, won an Emmy for Glee, and she turned 50 years old.