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Jamie Lee Curtis at 64: ‘I Feel More Alive Today Than I Ever Have’

The 2023 AARP Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award winner shares what she’s learned in 45 years as a movie star

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Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AARP

“I’m pro-aging!” says Jamie Lee Curtis, 64, who received the highest entertainment honor AARP can bestow, the Career Achievement Award, Saturday at the 21st annual Movies for Grownups Awards. “I feel more alive today than I ever have, even with COVID.”

She accuses her pooch, Runi, of figuring out how to give her COVID to keep her home the week before the AARP event, instead of attending awards shows every night as she was supposed to. “Runi is lying next to me, saying, ‘It’s biological warfare, but for love.’” Even so, she exuberantly says, “I’m just feeling incredibly happy, and vibrant and active.”

(The Movies for Grownups Awards will be broadcast by PBS on Great Performances Feb. 17 at 9 p.m. ET. Check local listings, or watch on or the PBS Video app.)

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Bouncing back from her bout with the virus in time for the Movies for Grownups show, Curtis is enjoying a massive resurgence in her career and her life, and is delighted to join an illustrious procession of past AARP honorees including Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Robert Redford and Helen Mirren.

Curtis became an overnight star at 19 in her 1978 smash Halloween, which no doubt made her Oscar-nominated mother, Psycho star Janet Leigh, proud. (Her relationship with her father, Oscar-nominated Some Like It Hot star Tony Curtis, who divorced Leigh when Jamie Lee was a toddler, was more fraught, but he was likely proud, too.)

Curtis is hotter now than she was in 1978. Her last Halloween movie, 2022’s Halloween Ends, boosted the horror franchise’s grosses over $800 million. “It broke the box office,” says Curtis, “and it starred a woman over 50. I was, like, ‘Wait, what?’ I didn’t see that coming.”

Nor did she foresee the success of the 2022 art film-turned-blockbuster Everything Everywhere All at Once, which earned Curtis her first Oscar nomination. “It was a little miracle of a movie — I fell in love with [lead actress] Michelle Yeoh and never let go.”

After receiving the Oscar nod, Curtis posted a joyous photo of herself hugging her husband, Christopher Guest, 74. Guest is an Emmy winner who appeared alongside John Belushi and Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Lemmings Dead in Concert and won eternal fame in This Is Spinal Tap. She and Guest have been married 38 years and have two kids, Ruby and Annie.

spinner image Jamie Lee Curtis in a scene from the film Everything Everywhere All at Once
Jamie Lee Curtis in "Everything Everywhere All at Once."
A24/Courtesy Everett Collection

Playing Deirdre Beaubeirdre, the hilariously awful IRS investigator who torments Yeoh’s character in the film, pushed Curtis’ personal film grosses above $2.5 billion, and when Yeoh won the Golden Globe Award for her performance, the photo of Curtis exultantly congratulating her became a huge internet meme.

“Just by nature, I love celebrating people. I’m a people person, super affectionate, very emotional. I weep a lot,” Curtis says. But neither star wept over the film’s $105 million box office take.

Not bad for an actress who was paid $8,000 for her teen scream queen debut, and then proved herself a brilliant comedian opposite John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda and Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday, a star who helped launch the hit murder mystery franchise Knives Out, and the author of 13 best-selling children’s books. She also earned an Emmy nomination (for Nicholas’ Gift) and two Golden Globe Awards (for the sitcom Anything But Love and the James Cameron action hit True Lies).

Curtis feels as if this year marks a new beginning, after what she calls “my Beatles birthday,” in honor of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band tune she loves, “When I’m 64.” 

“Prior to this birthday, when I’ve had friends and family members who turned 64, I have sent a Beatles birthday basket with all the elements of the song: For ‘losing my hair,’ I send everybody a hairbrush. For ‘Will you still be sending me a valentine,’ I always find some great little vintage valentine birthday greeting card.”

“I don’t drink” — she’s been 24 years sober after a miserable painkiller addiction following surgery — “but for people who do, I put a bottle of wine in, and a watch for the line, ‘If I’d been out till quarter to three,’ and a lock and key, for ‘would you lock the door?’”

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“When I was growing up, that song seemed so outrageous to me — 64 felt very far. And of course, as it was starting to happen to friends and family close to me, I realized the beauty of it.”

spinner image Jamie Lee Curtis AARP the Magazine digital cover at the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AARP

Dodging the perils of celebrity

As a child of Hollywood royalty who’s seen talented youngsters destroyed by fame, Curtis knows how preciously fortunate it is to achieve grownup wisdom.

“Honestly, I know many people who peaked at a very young age, as in that heartbreaking play That Championship Season.” Like the morbidly nostalgic athletes in the play, she says, actors “have such a very difficult time of it, because often, their biggest accomplishments happen at such an early point in their lives.”

She knows that fate might have been hers: “I have been so lucky that I continually have had an opportunity to expand.” But she doesn’t just mean expanded success as measured in dollars and glittering trophies. “I’m talking about expanding intellectually. I’m an autodidact and an opsimath — a late-in-life learner. I feel very fortunate that I’m having more creative opportunities — I’m getting to do what I’ve wanted to do since I was a teen. I’m starting to produce and direct things.”

She was an executive producer of the last three Halloween films and the podcast Letters from Camp, directed and starred in the TV series Scream Queens, and plans to direct the film of her eco-horror graphic novel Mother Nature — a story she’s been mulling since she was 19. She also hopes to adapt Patricia Cornwell’s best-selling Scarpetta detective thrillers.

“I wish I could tell you a big announcement I’ll have soon. But I’m getting to do the very thing that I have been putting myself in the path of for a very long time. And I’m ready for it in a way that I’m sure I wasn’t earlier — and the grace of my life is that it’s happening to me at a time when I can handle it mentally. I’m ready for all of it.”

spinner image Jamie Lee Curtis holds a knife in a scene from the film Halloween
Curtis in "Halloween."
Compass International Pictures/Getty Images

Success means more than megabuck movie grosses

Her burgeoning career isn’t the main reason Curtis is so exultant these days.

“I’m talking more spiritually. I’m talking about the beauty of being a grownup — the grace, the gentleness that comes with being a grownup, the physical and emotional and spiritual patina that comes with being a grownup. There’s a softening around the edges.”

She laughs heartily and adds, “And the whole idea of AARP is — we’re not dead!”

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Life is richer for Curtis than when she first followed in her mom’s scream-queen footsteps. “When you’re young and start to reach levels of fame, you’re bombarded with questions, and your answers are not based in any experience. I read things I said years back and I’m like, ‘Oh my God. I didn’t know anything!’ And now I know who I am.”

“You think you’re going to forge your own path, but the truth is, I followed my mother down a very tidy path for a long time. And I have finally broken free, and have developed my own mind. And with it has now come a new burst of creativity and purpose. My beautiful friend [and True Lies costar] Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Instagram that everybody needs to wake up with a purpose.”

That can be a problem for some grownups who retire, she thinks.

“Most of our life is often the jobs that we do, the service that we provide. And when we stop doing those jobs, often we’ve lost the identity that has come with them, which gives us a sense of purpose and value in the universe. And when you remove that from people’s lives, it can be a terrible vacuum.”

The answer? Creativity.

“If you had said to me when I was 18, ‘What do you want to do or be?’ I didn’t have a clue. I would have said something like, ‘I’ll be a cop.’ Because I thought I’d be good with people, and I like law and order and believe in the institution of law enforcement. But I never would have known that I was a creator — I would have never known who I am today. And it’s been through the process of elimination of things that didn’t suit me, that didn’t fit me. Outfits that we all used to wear, the terrible haircuts, oh my God, those glasses I was wearing.

“And now I have emerged. I know who I am. I know what I look like, I know what I look good in. I know what I think. And it is in that immersion of coming into my own self that I’m having this moment. Professionally, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

“I can never fall into a life of recreation. It doesn’t flip my switch. I know people who’ve worked their whole lives, and now get to play golf, their passion. I like golf, but golf doesn’t flip my switch. I will never be a recreator — I am a creator. And I will die creating.”

Curtis adores East of Eden author John Steinbeck. “He wrote this beautiful quote: ‘This I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.’ And through 64 years of being a learner, a listener, a reader and a sober person, I have developed a mind of my own — not my parents’, not my husband’s, not yours.

“That’s the beautiful gift of aging: The things that are unimportant slip away. That is the essence of the truth that sets you free to manifest your destiny. Carpe diem — seize the day. And I am seizing the day daily, because I have no f------ time to waste.”

Video: Jamie Lee Curtis Appreciates 'Hard-Fought' Life

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