What age was your high point in life

The power of the moment

The other day a police photo of David Cassidy went through the net: a 63-year-old puffy man with alcohol-heavy lids under a botox-tight forehead. Forty years ago he was a teenage star, made world famous by the television series about the singing Partridge Family, more commercially successful than Elvis, Paul McCartney and Elton John. Then the usual: crash, comeback attempts, loss of money through property speculation, tours with the old hits. What you do when you were someone and not anymore. The most recent arrest was not his first, and the reason for his arrest was always drink-driving. The fact that the last bail was a ridiculous $ 2,500 says everything about this sad life.

At almost the same time, an old high school photo of George Clooney was circulating, which we also chose as the cover of this issue: a bulbous-nosed boy with nerd glasses, a pot cut and a white polyester turtleneck. The picture must have been taken around the time when the Bravo star cut by David Cassidy - the prettiest boy in the world, despite the middle parting - hung to the left of the horse posters in every girl's room. If you compare the pictures from back then, the beauty of the center parting with the pot-cut booby, nothing indicates that one of them has already passed the high point of his life and the other would ever experience a high point.

That some reach their zenith earlier and others later is nothing new. And you don't even have to look at the drama of the crashed child star to understand: everyone has their time and everyone has a right. This becomes particularly evident when comparing peers with similar careers, such as Clooney and his contemporaries Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp. While the two eternal boys, now 49 and 50, with their goatees, woolly hats and armbands, have long passed their expiration date, life for Clooney, 52, actually only began the moment he got gray hair. Of course, he was found 15 years ago as a pediatrician in E.R. very nice - okay: very nice - but he was really great as a real man. With perfectly tailored suits and perfectly tailored self-irony, with a political and social conscience, with the insight that behind the camera you age more gracefully than before and as a director and producer you can also set your own themes instead of just declaiming the words of others.

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Few men manage to be interesting in really every phase of their life like him and to turn a career with traditionally limited durability into a life's work - actually, only Sean Connery comes to mind. For every hundred Boris Beckers who became global heroes with pale knees as 17-year-old puppies and later burned up in embarrassment, there is at most one Franz Beckenbauer, who had already been deregistered when he switched to Cosmos New York, 13 long years before his light-hearted and-lonely-walking-the-field-era. Who would have thought in 1977 that they would turn this apparently long-lost game around again?

Apart from these rare exceptions, the rule seems to be: Every man has his personal perfect age. (We'd rather not start with women at this point, that's another, much more complicated story.) Every man has an age at which he is completely himself and completely with himself, in full possession of his powers and talents and maybe even - if one were pathetic and believed in such a thing - arrived at the moment of one's true destiny. It can be at 17 like Becker after his first Wimbledon victory or at well over eighty like Konrad Adenauer, who was elected Chancellor at the age of 73 and then remained in office for 14 long years. Even at a time when age doesn't seem to matter because suddenly so many life plans are possible at so many confusing points in time than ever before - you can become a father at seventy and a self-made billionaire like Mark Zuckerberg at 23 - you have most men the unmistakable feeling of the right degree of maturity, the perfect physical state.

Incidentally, this has nothing to do with the perfect age in biological terms, because it applies to everyone alike that things go downhill at twenty at the latest. From the age of 15 you see worse, from 25 the testosterone level drops, from your mid-thirties the muscles shrink, from 27 the logical reasoning ability decreases, from 37 the memory. And to make it completely depressing: The filter performance of the kidneys reaches its maximum at the age of three. (My pleasure!)

Nor is it about the societal idea of ​​ideal age. An American poll was published in March according to which men had their best year at 34, started aging at 43, and were old at 59 (women, by the way, according to the same survey at 55, surprisingly not that much earlier). All of this is still very close to the classic terms of career and life planning, according to which everything relevant must be done by the age of forty, middle management reached and an appropriate number of children conceived. The fact that the high phase of life today no longer takes place in a narrow corridor between thirty and forty, and that in many areas things only really start much later - many Nobel Prize winners only made their great discoveries beyond forty - is on the one hand comforting, because That means: There is still something going on, I could still be in top form as an old man. On the other hand, it also means: old age is no longer a closed season, the pressure of social expectations does not decrease at around sixty. If you think you can then push a smooth ball, the examples of Picasso, Rubinstein and Kant will be thrown around the face. Oh, those were nice times when there was still a youth cult.

But maybe the idea of ​​the ideal age is again just one of our performance societies that considers measurable, visible success for everything. Perhaps Clooney found his tadpole stage in a white sweater the best time of his life, perhaps Konrad Adenauer the age at which he invented the soy sausage (41), the stuffing ball illuminated from the inside (62) or the cover flap for watering can nozzles (64). Especially people with many talents and consequently several possible paths in life are discouraged or exasperated when asked about their personal best age and in the end wish for a mixture: the body from then with the brain of today and the hoped-for serenity of tomorrow.

Photos: Greg Miller