Big stars may retire but their celluloid memory lives on

Sean Connery in a scene from the 1963 film, "From Russia With Love."
Sean Connery in a scene from the 1963 film, "From Russia With Love."
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Is it right that audiences should demand that their favourite film stars keep on working until they literally fall off the stage?

I’ve been ruminating on this since it became apparent that three of my favourite actors are unlikely ever to make a film again. I refer to Gene Hackman, Sean Connery and Joe Pesci.

It’s been a decade since we saw these men on screen in any meaningful way.

Hackman bade farewell after Welcome to Mooseport in 2004. Connery retired to 
play golf following his appearance in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, released in 2003.

And I don’t count Pesci’s work in Love Ranch in 2010; for all intents and purposes 
he hasn’t made a movie 
since 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4.

I miss them.

In fact, I’m sure that anyone who loves movies misses them. And that’s okay.

Everyone has a right to fade into the sunset and, let’s face it, both Hackman and Connery were over pensionable age when they dropped out.

Hackman turned 84 in January. Connery will reach the same age in August. As for Pesci, at 70 he’s the baby of the bunch.

Their disappearance from the screen reminded of two other icons who got out while the going was good.

James Cagney left movies in 1962 after realising that he could no longer handle lengthy tracts of dialogue. His final film was One, Two, Three for Billy Wilder.

Then, in 1980, he made a surprise return to the cinema at the age of 80 playing an irascible detective in Milos Forman’s Ragtime. Why?

His doctor told him that work would be good for him. And it was a triumph.

The trouble was that 
Cagney didn’t leave it there – his final credit was as an 
aged pugilist in Terrible Joe Moran, a project made for TV when he really was past his best.

And the other man I admire for backing out of the limelight was Cary Grant.

He was only 64 and in fine fettle when he decided enough was enough.

There were many offers 
later to tempt him back but he was smart enough not to accept.

And when he walked onto the stage of the Academy Awards many years later all he had to do was utter one line – “Good evening. My name is Cary Grant” – and the watching world went stark raving mad.

There is something special about growing up with one’s favourite movie star. As we grow old so they grow ever older.

But even as they age we can revisit them in their prime and ignore the grey hair, sagging jowls and paunch.

Me, I’m conflicted.

I defer to an artist’s right to hang up the easel and brushes. But part of me wants to see another work, even if it’s merely a sketch or a watercolour in miniature.

For Messrs Hackman, Connery and Pesci life in front of the camera is but a memory. But what a memory. And if it pales in comparison to lying on a beach or playing golf then we must accede to their wishes.