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Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer launched her Oscar campaign on Jan. 25 at the Sundance Film Festival premiere of director Ryan White's documentary Ask Dr. Ruth, a festival hit that could make her as popular as the 2018 Oscar frontrunner doc, RGB, about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A proud, longtime AARP member, Westheimer told AARP about her incredible journey from the Holocaust to Hollywood stardom.
So you're 90 years old now —
Ninety-and-a-half! Who would think I'd be coming to Sundance, and then the movie is in 20 cities, and then on Hulu? I'm teaching at Columbia and Hunter College, and I have two books: Crocodile, You're Beautiful, a children's book, and the new edition of Sex for Dummies. For AARP members, I'm very concerned about loneliness. If you're lonely, get up and go to the senior center. Don't just sit there and moan that you have nobody to talk to and don't sit in front of a television set.
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Not even to watch Ask Dr. Ruth when it's on Hulu?
I want all of you to watch it. The movie is certainly showing my joie de vivre — zest for life. You can watch in the evening some television, nothing wrong. But make sure a couple times a week you do something outside your apartment. I'm not saying go out every night, even though I'm out every night.
What did you learn by escaping the Holocaust at age 10?
I call myself an orphan of the Holocaust. I was not in a camp. My parents and godparents in Frankfurt all perished. I was sent on the Kindertransport with a group of children to safety in an orphanage in Switzerland. I did a study of the 50 children with me and none committed suicide or became depressive, because the first years of my and their childhood was with loving families.
Did Switzerland make you a skier?
I was a super-good skier, a black-diamond skier, but I'm not skiing at Sundance — I gave up skiing before I got hurt, but I could still dance a whole night if I find the right partner. On my birthday last year I danced with the Austrian ambassador in New York at the Swiss Ball — it's in the film. But after, he went home to his wife. Put that down, because I'm old-fashioned. A square.
You almost died on your 20th birthday, right?
On June 4, 1948, a cannonball exploded in the girls’ residence in Jerusalem and I almost lost both my feet. But luckily a brilliant German Jewish surgeon fixed my feet.