The Nick Nolte Syndrome


“Strange, don’t you think I’m looking older? Something good has happened to me. Change is a stranger you have yet to know.” ~George Michael

You know those actors who never seem to age, the ones like Courteney Cox, who is virtually indistinguishable from her initial Friends foray over 20 years ago, or Will Smith, who still has the same stylish good looks he had as a fresh-faced Prince of Bel Air, also over two decades ago. They get older on the calendar only, and we, as regular human beings, try to figure out how they accomplish this feat, as if it’s a type of magic. But it’s not magic, and eventually they will succumb to Father Time like everyone else. Just as Kirk Douglas. Or Nick Nolte.

Back in the mid-80s to mid-90s Nick Nolte was a great character actor, playing everyone from good guys to bad guys, in movies that ranged from action to romantic comedy to everything in-between. He was a good leading man because despite his advancing years he maintained a set of good looks that women of all ages admired, and his rugged facade made men want to be him. Besides, it seemed like he owned a piece of art straight out of Picture of Dorian Gray.

But sometime in the late-90s a shift happened. Somehow the man who had defied the gods of time for so long began looking his age. In fact, it wasn’t even a gradual shift. One day he was the ruggedly handsome Nick Nolte and the next he was an old man who might be found rummaging for food down at Grand Central Station. Perhaps his picture of himself got destroyed, or he just lost the chess match with Father Time. I call this shift the Nick Nolte syndrome.

In recent years other stars have begun to succumb to this syndrome, most notably someone like George Michael. A heartthrob for years, he didn’t seem to get older, just more stylish, just a better version of himself as he aged. But then 2008 hit and his hair was thinner, his face more angular, his style more dated than before. And even though he still sings like an angel he no longer carried those boyish looks that had characterized him for so long. He looks his age, and I’m still getting used to it.

Another example is the mercurial Tom Hanks, who for years and years looked not too far off from the character he portrayed in Forrest Gump. He had that jovial face, and that smile, and was as ageless as the kid from Big even in the older body. But in recent years he has begun to look more like a grandpa and less like the man who named his only friend Wilson almost 15 years ago in Cast Away.

It happens to everyone, but I think we are more blown away by what we perceive as a sudden shift than by the gradual aging process of most people we are familiar with in real life. Perhaps it’s the camera angles and make-up artists we have to thank for the fact that these actors tend not to age for years, but at some point the camera only has so many angles, and the real world must intrude. Which is fine because if they were actually timeless I think scientists would be studying them in cages by now.

Like Nick Nolte (who’s seen him lately anyway?)…



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