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'70 Over 70' Podcast Features Reflections From People Over The Age Of 70

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If there's anything the past year has put at the forefront, it's our mortality.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "70 OVER 70")

MAX LINSKY: You seem very convinced that you've gotten very old.

MARTY LINSKY: Yeah, I feel - I mean, I think a lot has to do with turning 80. I think a lot has to do with COVID.

CORNISH: This is Max Linsky speaking with his father, Marty, on the eve of his dad's 80th birthday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "70 OVER 70")

MARTY LINSKY: I think a lot has to do with feeling like I have more time on my hands, although I don't accomplish anything more.

CORNISH: Now, some have described a year in quarantine as losing time. Max Linsky says he felt forced to face his father's mortality when his dad had heart surgery just before Christmas last year. It's part of what moved Linsky to start talking to people over the age of 70 for his new podcast "70 Over 70," people like Dionne Warwick, Dan Rather and Alice Waters and his own father, Marty Linsky. Max says when he went to visit his dad while he was recovering in the hospital, he didn't know what to expect.

MAX LINSKY: And I walked in and he was, you know, had his iPad out and was writing emails to people. And he had this ridiculous grin on his face. I think it was the first time he'd felt really great in months. And I think it was because he felt sort of physically strong.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "70 OVER 70")

MAX LINSKY: How do you feel?

MARTY LINSKY: I feel great. I just feel wonderful. I mean, you know, when you hit 80 years old, you can't kid yourself anymore that you're not on the downside. I love the life that I have. It does feel more like starting over again than I had anticipated. It also feels more glorious.

MAX LINSKY: You have a procedure like that, where the odds that you won't wake up are very, very low, but they're on the table, and I think you come out of an experience like that and do feel like you've got some kind of second chance.

CORNISH: So you decide you're going to sit down with more people for this series. What did you think these conversations were going to be like? And then how were they different?

MAX LINSKY: Well, the reason I wanted to do the show is because I host another podcast and I did some interviews with people over 70 years ago, and I went into those interviews thinking we were going to walk down memory lane and talk about their greatest hits. And both of these women - one was named Carol Loomis and another one was named Renata Adler - neither of them said this to me explicitly, but implicitly, they sort of said to me very quickly in the interview, like, I'm not dead. I'm just as alive right now as I was when I was doing this work that you're talking about. I'm embarrassed by it, but that was a somewhat revelatory idea for me.

CORNISH: Let's talk about someone like Dionne Warwick, who has a very long public life and, in the pandemic, has been underscored as a star once again (laughter) through her social media.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "70 OVER 70")

DIONNE WARWICK: I'm having a ball. I'm having just a bunch of fun. That's what I'm doing - just being able to personal interface with the youngsters and being the grown-up on Twitter.

MAX LINSKY: One of the things that was really striking to me, you know, when I thought of Dionne Warwick before we talked, I thought of these kind of distinct eras. You know, she had been a performer. She had been a ubiquitous TV personality. She was now having this whole life on Twitter where she was connecting with younger artists. You know, she just recorded with Chance the Rapper and The Weeknd. You know, she's having this whole new - from what the outside feels like, a whole new version of herself almost. And the thing that she said to me that I found pretty out of reach and really inspiring was that she's always known who she was.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "70 OVER 70")

WARWICK: Everybody has a career, and we all understand that, but what are you made out of? I am Dionne from beginning to end.

MAX LINSKY: She's always known who Dionne Warwick was. And so to her, it all feels connected. It all feels like one through line, even though from the outside it feels like maybe there are these really distinct eras. And that's one of the questions I'm interested in in the show overall - is the gap between how these people understand themselves and see themselves and how the people in the lives of the world at large see them, you know, and how they square that.

CORNISH: One of the things you do actually ask a lot of the people in the show pretty directly is just their thoughts about dying in general. And there's just such a range of answers, you know, Norman Lear saying he's not afraid.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "70 OVER 70")

MAX LINSKY: Are you scared of it ending?

NORMAN LEAR: Not at all.

MAX LINSKY: How come?

LEAR: Well, nobody's ever come back and told me any reason to be frightened about it.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Andre De Shields, you know, having, of course, a whole (laughter) kind of philosophy around it, the actor that he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "70 OVER 70")

ANDRE DE SHIELDS: Time existed before we came out of that first portal that we call birth. And time will continue to exist when we go through the final portal, which is called death.

CORNISH: It's not as though it wasn't on their minds.

MAX LINSKY: No. No. I mean, is it not on anyone's mind? Like, you know, I think whether it's front of mind or back of mind, like, it's there for a lot of us. But I'll say the number of people I've talked to who have met that question, not just with a lack of fear but with some kind of joy, has been incredibly striking to me. And I personally have found it incredibly inspiring but also freeing. Because while everyone I've talked to has basically said, listen, Max, like, you never figure it all out; no one has it all figured out, the idea that you can get to a place where your relationship with dying is not just fearful but joyous - I find that incredibly freeing. I would also say I'm pretty far away from it myself. But just knowing that you can get there and that the way that I think almost all of them have is through a sort of, like, relentless pursuit of trying to be present, you know, gives you something to shoot for.

CORNISH: So maybe this is just because I'm an interviewer, but there was a really interesting dynamic at play in a lot of these interviews. You're trying to be polite and maybe dancing around something a little bit and they're like, baby, cut the BS (laughter). Just get to it. And that came up a lot in the conversation with the actor Andre De Shields. He won a Tony at age 73, and he tells you that he's never listened back to his own speech from that day. And you offered to very gently.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "70 OVER 70")

MAX LINSKY: Well, if you're game, can we listen to it together?

DE SHIELDS: What do you mean, am I game? I'm here. Come on. Come on, Max.

MAX LINSKY: All right. I'll stop asking if you're game. You're here. Let's do it.

CORNISH: You're like, can we listen to it together? Can we? And he's like, come on, Max.

(LAUGHTER)

MAX LINSKY: That's a great Max impression. I think cutting through the BS is a good way to put it. There's not a lot of patience for small talk and filler, you know? And I think there's another piece of it, too, which is that he showed up ready. And I think his only ask of me was, be ready, too. You know, meet me where I am. And that's been the great gift for me of the show - is that the people that I have talked to have been willing to connect. And I'm asking big questions. This is big, like, meaning of life stuff. And people don't ask that kind of stuff very often. And I think that almost all of us would love to talk if someone's really going to listen.

CORNISH: You have to listen.

MAX LINSKY: You got to listen. That's the whole thing.

CORNISH: Max Linsky is the host of the podcast "70 Over 70" and co-founder of Pineapple Street Studios, a podcast production firm.

Thank you so much, Max.

MAX LINSKY: Thank you, Audie Cornish.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALPHAVILLE'S "FOREVER YOUNG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.