DICK VAN DYKE STILL CHIRPY AT 90
older, Dick says he often experiences age discrimination. He says: “Whether I am recognised or not makes all the difference in the world. If I’m recognised I’m treated very nicely, but sometimes if they think I’m just an old guy, I don’t get much attention at all.
“I walked into Tommy Hilfiger and I barely got in the door and the young salesgirl said, ‘Sir, I don’t think you’ll find anything you’ll like in here’.
“And I was at a designer handbag shop, and said, ‘Can I see that purse on the shelf ?’ I wanted to buy it for Arlene.
“And the salesgirl said, ‘Sir, I don’t think you could afford that’,” he says.
“The last acceptable discrimination is age discrimination. It’s sad because elderly people used to be respected for their experience and wisdom but they get sidelined and it’s too bad.”
Luckily, Dick says he doesn’t get much hassle when he’s out with Arlene, who he met in 2006 when she was working as a make-up artist. He explains: “We get, ‘Is this your daughter?’ That happens a lot, and I’m very proud to say, ‘No, it’s my wife.’ But people have never been insulting to us.”
The couple married in 2012 and Dick says they were initially wary of the age gap. His eldest son, a lawyer – one of four children with his first wife, Margie Willett – was cautious that Arlene might be a gold-digger. But the actor says: “She won them over pretty quickly.”
However, Dick is still pragmatic about his advancing years.
“I have a living will,” he says. “And the last thing I would want is for her to care for me. That I wouldn’t stand for. I tell her I would like her to find someone else.
“She is young, beautiful and bright so she won’t have any problem at all finding a partner. It makes me happy she would have another life with someone else.
“I don’t have any qualms about death. There is nothing foreboding about it for me. I choose to live in the moment.”
Dick’s sunny disposition endures despite him having experienced his fair share of loss. He separated from Margie in the 1970s, when they were both going through difficult periods.
Dick was dealing with alcoholism – the closest he says he has ever come to depression – and Margie with an addiction to an anti-anxiety drug.
But the pair were still close when she died of pancreatic cancer in 2007. He says: “With her death I lost a part of myself.”
After his spilt from Margie he found love again with actress Michelle Triloa, who was his partner for three decades. She passed away from lung cancer in 2009.
He says: “I sang and talked to her until the hospice nurses told me she was gone.” Dick also lost his first grandchild, Jessica, in 1987, when she was just 13. She had Reye’s syndrome, a rare disease associated with taking aspirin to treat the symptoms of viral infections.
“That loss destroyed everyone and changed our lives for ever,” he says.
But it seems Dick’s eternally cheery demeanour gives him great resilience.
“I find letting go is hard, but you really have to. I have had to let go so many times it has kind of become a way of life.”
At 90, he still has ambitions. He regularly sings with his a capella group, Dick Van Dyke and The Vantastix, and he wants to do some “serious” acting.
“I’m trying to get someone to let me do Death of a Salesman. And I’ve always wanted to do a bit of Shakespeare.”
But there is one job he might not be
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DICK ON U.S. PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL DONALD TRUMP so keen on pursuing – a part in Disney’s upcoming Mary Poppins remake, with Emily Blunt in Julie Andrews’ shoes.
“I’d have to see the script,” he says, diplomatically. “Without Walt Disney, and the Sherman brothers to write the score, and Julie, it will be difficult, I think.
“Every day we came to work and we knew there was something magical going on. There was such a spirit,” he says of filming the 1964 original.
“Walt was always there as a morale builder. We both said we were children looking for our inner adult – Walt was such a big kid.
“Sequels are traditionally not as good as the first. But I wish them well.”
Best wishes from Dick Van Dyke? That’s sure to go down well, even without a spoonful of sugar.
Dick Van Dyke’s autobiography is now published in the UK. My Lucky Life: In And Out of Show Business is published by John Blake and is available for £8.99.
1ST WIFE Dick & Margie Willett in 1964 PARTNER In 2006 with Michelle Triola YOUNG AT HEART Dick with his wife Arlene Silver, 44