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Sean Penn Turns 50

Some folks can’t separate the actor from the activist. Neither can he.

The Big 5-Oh: August 17

“How old would you feel,” Sean Penn asked our Movies for Grownups® Awards audience in Hollywood last February, “if I said Spicoli is 50 in August?” That would be Jeff Spicoli, the high-school stoner Penn played in the 1982 comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. His comment not only highlighted the passing of time but also reminded everyone of  his vast range of roles, from a 1974 cameo on Little House on the Prairie (directed by his dad, Leo) to Oscars for Milk and Mystic River, plus indelible turns in such films as Carlito’s Way and Dead Man Walking.

Still, at times Penn’s memorable performances have been overshadowed by gossip about his two marriages (to Madonna and Robin Wright) and his strident political and social activism. Penn bristled at the recent suggestion that his Haitian relief efforts were a publicity stunt, and he has a point: when was the last time Penn—who in March said he wished rectal cancer on some of  his critics—seemed particularly concerned about his image?