Choosing the sexiest men on the planet over 50 is no easy task. Just ask the 17 editors and writers (both female and male) who took on the task for AARP The Magazine. After more than 1,000 email exchanges and five conference calls, we came up with our list of 21.
Join the discussion: Which celebrity do people say you resemble
All candidates had to have already turned 50 — and be proud to both admit their age and to have been selected by us. Yes, they needed to simmer sex appeal. But we went beyond the physical and judged for brainpower, sense of humor, individuality, artistic ability, generosity and goodness of heart. Our choices, in no particular order, appear on these seven pages. Alas, we had to leave out many good men, including our 15 runners-up.
Actor and Activist, 51
The guy who jokingly calls himself "The Sexiest Man Still Alive" may well be Hollywood's top human rights activist: In March he was arrested protesting at D.C.'s Sudanese Embassy. Five years ago he testified to Congress about atrocities he'd seen in Darfur. And on an even higher level, Clooney created and bankrolls the Satellite Sentinel Project, which, from space, monitors military movements against civilians. Through it all, Clooney opens doors by brokering his inherent charm, dimpled good looks and sharp humor (when arrested in D.C., he identified himself as Brad Pitt). "George is the real deal," says Tom Andrews of United to End Genocide. "A lot of celebrities have big hearts, but they're limited when it comes to thinking strategically. George is one of the best."
Q: What hunk would you put on our hot list?
A: Javier Bardem. He's got tremendous power of communication.
Q: Do you feel pressure to look younger?
A: No. Well, yes, I'm a little bald, but I don't think the pressure is just a Hollywood thing. It's a social thing.
Q: How do you stay in shape?
A: I work out every morning, and when I'm finished, the first thing I put in my body is white tea. Everything is about balance.
"Denzel's mystique is that he projects self-confidence," says Don Cheadle, Washington's co-star in Flight, to be released this year. "You see his performances and know you're looking at a grounded person." That commitment extends to Washington's personal life (he's been married nearly 29 years) and work as spokesman for Boys & Girls Clubs of America (he joined a Boys Club at age 6). He recently donated $50,000 to a New Mexico BGCA club after learning it might close. In 2010 he refused to do a TV interview about the clubs unless it included the organization's National Youth of the Year. Says BGCA's Frank Sanchez Jr.: "He defers the attention to what's most important, which is the kids."
JON BON JOVI
Rock Star, 50
Pre-Fame Name: John Francis Bongiovi Jr.
Sweet Story: Married his high school sweetheart, Dorothea, during a 1989 tour.
Secret Admirer: Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, who shared a 2006 Grammy with him for "Who Says You Can't Go Home." She confesses: "I was obsessed in junior high with a certain pair of leather pants he wore, but it's actually Jon's brain that makes him sexy."
Who Else Likes Him for His Brain: President Barack Obama, who in 2010 appointed Bon Jovi to serve on the White House Council for Community Solutions, which advises the president on how government, businesses, nonprofits and citizens can work to meet community needs.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON
Towering height, perfect skin, distinguishing laugh lines — that's how film director Kasi Lemmons describes Jackson. Lemmons has seen those versatile good looks up close, directing Jackson, now featured in TV advertising for iPhone, in The Caveman's Valentine and Eve's Bayou. "His look is ageless, it was even when he was young," Lemmons says of the highest-grossing actor of all time (so says Guinness World Records). And the Tennessee native's shaved head? "He doesn't need hair — and there aren't many men you can describe that way. He's got so many personas, yet he's always Sam: a down-to-earth guy who can stop a crowd."
The world-famous, Paris-born, Harvard-educated Ma, a married father of two, began playing the cello at age 4.
Q: What makes a person sexy?
A: It's deportment, comportment, grace, spunk and character. Age is not a factor.
Q: What's your best feature?
A: Probably my mischievousness. I can't stay serious for too long. I'm basically up to no good.
Q: What don't you like about your looks?
A: My hair. My office mates say I have this get-up-and-go look. People are constantly fixing it, because it stands up in odd ways.
MARIO VAN PEEBLES
Actor and Director, 55
Born in Mexico City, he made his acting debut at age 13, in a film directed by his father, Melvin Van Peebles.
Growing Up: "I guess I was pretty," Peebles once said. "I had a lot of hair. People thought I was one of the Jackson 5."
Possible Second Career: Briefly worked as a financial analyst in New York mayor Ed Koch's office after graduating with an economics degree from Columbia University.
Best Line: "He told me I reminded him of his mother," says actress Sherilyn Fenn, who played his love interest on the Showtime sitcom Rude Awakening. "He has great respect for women."
"Liam is very manly on screen," says Olivier Megaton, who directed Neeson, born in Northern Ireland, in Taken 2, out this fall. "He's like a mountain. He doesn't have to use a lot of words; he just has to be there." So how does he connect with audiences? "His eyes," Megaton replies. "He's got the look that says he's got more hidden inside." Despite being a Hollywood leading man, Neeson, who once lived with actress Helen Mirren and was married to the late Natasha Richardson (with whom he has two sons), hasn't forgotten where he came from. Remembering his roots working in a Guinness beer factory, the actor once said, "What am I doing in the movies? I wanna go back to Ireland and drive a forklift."
NBC Nightly News Anchor, 53
From our reporter's notebook:
His Diet: "I cannot pass an Arby's or Taco Bell without swerving into the parking lot. I see folks who read the content label on a piece of chocolate. I don't want to live that way. Eating mashed yeast and potting soil is not my idea of a fulfilling meal."
His Beauty Regimen: "It consists of a disposable razor in the morning, and later, on set, our guy slaps me with makeup and I just hope I don't have a clump of hair sticking up."
His Take on Aging: "All guys wake up and expect to see an 18-year-old in the mirror. But there's nothing you can do about it. Just live your life and realize it may be true that the only guy who really looks good with three days' growth is George Clooney."
A huge crowd of women attended Mortensen's art exhibit at Robert Mann's Manhattan gallery in 2000, and if they were attracted more by the native New Yorker's looks than his painting skills, make no mistake: The skilled actor, best known for his starring role as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is not just another studly face. Facile in half a dozen languages (he spent some of his childhood in South America and later lived in Denmark), Mortensen is a published photographer and poet, and he released an album with fellow guitarist Buckethead in 2011. "His art is genuine, sensitive and personal," says Mann. "It's a passionate extension of who he is."
Country Singer, 60
George Strait, often called the "King of Country," recently landed his 44th No. 1 hit on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart — more than any other musician. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006. In concert, the 40-years-married grandfather stands as still as a hickory tree and the audience swoons. Journalist Alanna Nash explains why: "I was once at a Louisville restaurant and the Texas native passed by. He wore a straw cowboy hat and creased, crisp jeans. He tossed a crooked grin my way and I stopped chewing. He was the most arresting man I'd ever seen. He knew exactly who he was."
"I've always identified with a wide range of sexual desires," says the author of The World According to Garp. "When I was a boy, I was confusingly attracted to just about everyone. In lieu of having much in the way of actual sex (this was the '50s) I imagined having sex all the time, with a disturbing variety of people. I was attracted to my friends' mothers, to girls my own age and — at the all-boys' school I attended, where I was on the wrestling team — to certain older boys among my teammates. Easily two-thirds of my fantasies frightened me." Sexual scenarios play recurring roles in his work: His 14th and most recent novel, In One Person, follows a bisexual man's life as a "sexual suspect" — though Irving's own life is tame. "I'm 70, and I'm just a straight guy who's been married for 25 years."
From his career-making turn as Robert Young's right hand on Marcus Welby, M.D., to his latest film-directing project, Brolin credits his longevity in Hollywood to keeping his cool. "Stress can take years off your life," says the father of actor Josh Brolin, 44 (and father-in-law to actress Diane Lane, 47). "I don't get rattled about many things." It can't hurt that he lives with someone equally familiar with the vagaries of show business: his wife of 14 years, Barbra Streisand, 69. That, however, may be where their similarities end. "She thinks everything has to get done right now," he says of his beloved, a notorious perfectionist. "My theme is, 'What's your hurry?'"
Champion Athlete, 59
Back in the '70s, Andy Mill was America's top downhill skier. But he really peaked when he traded chills for gills: He won his first of five World Series of Tarpon Fishing cups in 2000. "Being great is one thing," says Mill, "but being the best in the world is another." These days, Mill loves to fish the Florida Keys, near the home he shares with his third wife, Debra (second wife was tennis champ Chris Evert). And although he still has aches from the horrific back- and neck-breaking crash that ended his ski career, he doesn't plan to relax. "I'm 60 going on 6," says Mill, who skied in two Olympics. "I look outside and think, 'What mountain can I climb? How fast can I go?' "
Chicago-based paleontologist Sereno has discovered more than two dozen new species of dinosaurs, plus SuperCroc, history's largest crocodile. But it's not just sifting sand that keeps Sereno buff; he regularly performs the same number of push-ups as his age. ("It gets harder with each passing year," he admits.) To counter the blazing rays of the sun while on expeditions in Tibet and the Sahara, he slathers on moisturizers. "I should look like a dried prune," he says. Sereno's not shy about using his stud status to help promote interest in science: "If you can communicate well, and your looks help to inspire young people, then use them."
Actor and Author, 53
"Rupert can't be anything but authentic," says Christine Ebersole, Everett's co-star in Blithe Spirit on Broadway in 2009. "It wouldn't fit a personality like his to keep anything hidden." Which explains why the actor came out publicly in 1989, a rare move at the time. Acting jobs dried up, but Everett, an Englishman who once played Julia Roberts' charming gay confidant in 1997's My Best Friend's Wedding, sees an upside: "I'm probably much happier. I may not be as rich or successful, but at least I'm vaguely free to be myself." Part of being himself has been as a writer. Everett has penned two books and written for Vanity Fair.
A few facts about the handsome Brit, who played Pride & Prejudice's Mr. Darcy twice (first for the BBC, then on the silver screen) and won a Best Actor Oscar for The King's Speech.
Marital Status: He and his Italian wife, Livia, have two young sons.
Famous Ex-Girlfriend: He has an adult son with actress Meg Tilly (The Big Chill).
Why He Should Do More Comedy: Firth has dimples when he smiles.
Exotic Roots: Lived from infancy to age 4 in Nigeria, where his dad was teaching.
On His Looks: "Forget 'trying' to be sexy," he once said in an interview. "That's just gruesome."
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.
Battling polluters has its upside. "I spend a lot of my time, often with my children, in some of the world's most beautiful landscapes — kayaking in Chile, camping all over the United States," says Kennedy, founder of the nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliance and chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper. The third child of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, and nephew of President John Kennedy, is still an athlete, which is very much a family tradition. Last summer his generation beat the younger generation in touch football. "I've got nieces and nephews who are Olympic-class athletes," says the father of six (also a licensed falconer), "and we still beat them! We have veteran savvy!"
Three facts about Bakula, who most recently starred in TNT's Men of a Certain Age.
He Was a Playgirl Cover Dude: "I'd been this guy on Quantum Leap, and I thought I'd mix it up a bit. If I'd posed naked, I would have regretted it, but happily I didn't."
His Modesty Is a Definite Turn-on: "There are a lot of guys who are more famous and more good-looking than I am. They're the sex symbols."
His Choice for Sexiest Man: "I don't know how you can skip Clooney, but I like to see a fight, so I'd say it's a toss-up between George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon."
Before dropping out of the presidential race, Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, was the hippest dude in the conservative crowd. The 28-years-married father of seven once played keyboards with a rock band, rode his Harley on the campaign trail and referenced Kurt Cobain during the debates.
Q: What advice would you give younger men about how to age well?
A: Your inner strength is as important as your outer strength.
Q: What does your wife love about you?
A: She'd probably say my authenticity, which extends to my salt-and-pepper hair. She once told me that if I ever tried to add anything artificial, she'd leave me.
TV Executive, 62
"He has a great brain and wit," says journalist Julie Chen, 42, who's been married to CBS President and CEO Moonves for seven years. (The couple have a toddler son and he has three children from a previous marriage.) The native New Yorker may have a head for the entertainment business — he's been an actor as well as the president of Warner Bros. (You can thank him for Friends and ER.) But “deep down he's very emotional,” says his bride, co-host of the daytime CBS show The Talk. “The first time I wore my engagement ring in public, he looked over at me and his eyes welled up."