Living to 100 and Beyond with Norman Lear – Chasing Life

Living to 100 and Beyond with Norman Lear - Chasing Life

Let’s welcome to the stage Norman Lear.

All in the Family theme


“Boy, the way Glenn Miller played. Songs that made the hit parade. Guys like us they had it made …”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


When I was growing up in the seventies and eighties, there was no bigger person in television than Norman Lear. He created, produced and wrote shows like “All in the Family”, “Good Times”, “Maude”, “The Jeffersons” and “One Day at a Time”. They were funny, and they often pushed the envelope on social issues, issues we are still wrestling with today, almost 50 years later, like racism, women’s rights and abortion. Lear tried to challenge societal assumptions by using humor and laughter. It’s hard to believe, but Norman turns 100-years-old at the end of July. We were honored to have him as a special guest recently at Life Itself, a gathering of innovative thinkers at the intersection of health and technology. I co-hosted the event with my friend Marc Hodosh, and today I want to share Marc’s special conversation with Norman Lear. You’re going to get to hear pearls of wisdom from one of the all time greats along with his secrets to living longer. I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. And it’s time to start chasing life.

Last night we celebrated your 100th birthday, which is coming up quite soon. When you think of different moments in your life, if you took snapshots, how do you, what what what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

When I first realized, when I first started to think about humor and it was on this occasion: my father had gotten into trouble selling some fake bonds or something and was hauled off to Deer Island off the coast of Massachusetts for three years, went to prison. The next night or two, my mother was selling the furniture and the evening my mother was selling the furniture, there were some strangers in the room. And one guy was buying my father’s red leather chair. That guy, buying that chair, puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “well, I mean, you’re the man of the house now.” A nine-year-old in that situation is the man of the house now. I don’t know whether it was at that moment or two years later or six years later, I realized, my God, that was funny. That — that horse’s ass. (LAUGHTER)

You you find, you find joy in a lot of different ways.

You, Norman, you, sometimes in younger people are asked, “well, how old do you want to be?” You often get an answer of “80, 90, 100. That’s good for me,” you know. Does that make sense to you now that you’re 100 years old? Does that feel like a misconception?

In my nearly 100 years, I never had nothing but pleasure waking up. I like waking up. And I, I’ve, I’ve been very lucky in my life. The ceiling in my bedroom was interesting. And the ceiling in the house we’re living in now is interesting. And I go to sleep and wake up every morning just — and think there’s a book in the ceilings of my life.

You know, you’re saying when you look at that ceiling, when you wake up and fall asleep, it’s just the ability to be able to do that.

I, I’ve learned how to recognize. You know, we all have a lot of pleasure from the days, weeks, months, years, that just kind of happens without our under — realizing it or thinking about it. I grew over the years to a place where, “holy shit,” I say to myself, “that’s, that’s wonderful,” 95, 195 times a day. APPLAUSE.

So, you’ve often said that the key to you being young is laughter.

I do believe laughter belongs in every conversation –.

And you created shows meant to change the way people think on different topics and use laughter as a mechanism. Is that fair?

Yes. And I, you know, I don’t know a more spiritual experience than, and I’ve experienced it here with a few laughs here, but I spent most of my life with 300 people in a theater with four or five, six cameras, and some of our wonderful performers. And watching an audience guffaw, a belly laugh, people tend to come out of their seats, just a hair, bend down and come back. Standing at the side and watching that wave, I don’t know how many thousand times in my life. It really happened when I didn’t think to myself that added seconds, minutes, weeks, who knows?

You also created a show called “Guess Who Died?” Right? Why? What? Why did you what inspired you? And it took me a while to get that on the air. Right? So I’m wondering, is, do you think the idea of the audiences for older you know, older audiences is something that.

Oh, I think it’s one of the great neglects in our business. There aren’t shows, enough shows about elderly people and not necessarily that elderly, you know. Just seventies, eighties, nineties. APPLAUSE

And by the way, I have to tell you just a moment. You’re not the oldest guy in the room.

Oh, is there somebody older?

There is a gentleman here who’s going to be 102 in January. Where’s Aaron? Just to raise Aaron’s hand. There he is. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Aaron.

You know, Norman. Betty White once said, retirement’s not in her vocabulary. And I get the same feeling that you feel the same way, that no matter what you do, you want to keep creating and building and being the activist you are to change America —

I like getting up in the morning with something on my mind, something I can work on, some sort, some conclu– and like to have that every day, working for some conclusion, however slight, however.

And you also go by a few quotes that you say frequently. “Just another version of you” is one of them. Yeah. Well, tell everybody what that means to you.

Well, I believe we are, all of us, just versions of each other. And I love the sound and the feeling of it, you know? That we, in our common humanity, are versions of one another. And those versions are infinite, because I think we are all infinitely individual.

I didn’t even ask for it!

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I love how Norman sees laughter as both medicine and the secret to longevity. And how the feelings of having a purpose, a goal, no matter how small, is what gets him through the day and through life. After the break, more from Norman Lear.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


And now back to Chasing Life and a special conversation with Norman Lear and my friend Marc Hodosh at the Life Itself conference.

You said that whoever you’re talking to, you feel like you’re that person’s age.

Yeah, I think about it very often. If I’m with a 12-year-old, long enough, I, and long enough could be into 11 minutes. But I will find myself relating to the 12-year-old like a 12-year-old. I don’t mean mimicking childhood, I’m talking about a internal experience. You know, I feel like I’m a —

I’m a kid talking to you.

I’ll be 50 this year. Half — But, you know, it comes fast. You really also say “over and next”. Tell us what that one means.

Yeah. When something is over and over and we are on to next. And if there was a hammock in the middle of those two words, it would be the best way you could define living in the moment.

Do you think there’s something next?

There gonna be — If I have anything to say about it, they’ll be a number of nexts. (APPLAUSE)

Good answer. That’s why we’re having this conversation. Norman, we have a couple of surprises for you. Before we do, I want you to tell us what “life itself” means to you.

What is “life itself”? There would be no meaning without life. I’ve, I’ve looked at dead people. They don’t look like they’re living. (LAUGHTER). And, you know, I like it better that way, you know, above ground.

And we have one more surprise. One more thing, as they say.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


So about this surprise, I am going to jump in here to give a bit of background. It may seem hard to believe, but one of Norman’s most enduring legacies is in an arena outside television. In the early 2000s, he and his wife, Lynne, bought an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, at auction, and sent it on a three and a half year cross-country tour. The goal was to bring the people’s document directly to the people, to inspire young Americans to engage in civic life and to vote. The event was launched 21 years ago on Independence Day 2001. And accompanying the Declaration of Independence for a part of the tour were two spoken word poets, partners in rhyme, if you will: Sekou Andrews and Steve Connell. They later became close friends with Norman. So Sekou and Steve were on hand at the Life Itself conference for a surprise birthday roast.

We wanted to come up with their own Declaration of Independence.

Yeah. You know, our truth is that when he, we met him, when he purchased the Declaration –.

You know, as he said, and that might seem impressive because– it’s not really, though.

Yeah. I mean, after all, he was there at the signing. Right?

He actually didn’t buy his copy signed by the writer, though. He brought his copy to the writers and had them sign.

Had them sign it themselves. Yeah, see the difference?

See the difference? His bucket list, actually, was to invent the first bucket.

You see the distinction that we’re making?

That’s what we’re trying to say.

Yeah, see, like, for example, Norman, you know, this — my bucket list includes performing on “Saturday Night Live”.

Yeah, Norman’s includes being alive on saturday night.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


I got to tell you, it was a pretty terrific performance to witness firsthand. And I think Sekou and Steve were pretty spot on, as they ended their tribute.

This is not the age of modern medicine. It’s —

Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews


The Age of Norman Lear.

Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews


Miracle Man is sitting right here.

A man that politicians have feared.

And entertainment legends revere. And aliens created a whole event to ensure

Infinite birthdays, more, for King Lear

Because you, sir, are the meaning.

Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews


Of the acronym: life itself. Which is why we’re all here.

Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews


With our next hundred years.

Oh. (APPLAUSE) Jesus! Leave me the bleep alone!

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


Happy birthday Norman Lear. I know this episode was a little different, but I just couldn’t resist sharing. And to hear more amazing conversations like this one, go to You know, Norman exemplifies the notion of being young at heart. Maybe something we all should try and replicate. So before you go, I want your help with something. We have an upcoming episode about play and we want to hear your thoughts. What are some of the ways you found to keep the concept of play from your childhood alive in your adult life? Record a voice memo and email it to [email protected] Or give us a call at 470-396-0832 and leave a message. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next Tuesday. Chasing Life is a production of CNN Audio. Megan Marcus is our executive producer. Our podcast is produced by Emily Liu, Andrea Kane, Xavier Lopez, Isoke Samuel, Grace Walker and Allison Park. Tommy Bazarian is our engineer and a special thanks to Ben Tinker, Amanda Sealy, Carolyn Song and Nadia Kounang of CNN Health, as well as Rafeena Ahmad, Lindsey Abrams and Courtney Coupe from CNN Audio. And for Life Itself. Marc Hodosh and Neel Khairzada.

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