They seemed invulnerable in their prime. Stan Lee, a movie-star-handsome creator of superheroes who seemed to just keep living and living. And Burt Reynolds, an actual movie star who lived like he could laugh off anything, maybe even death.
They turned into pioneers in a sense, venturing into the realm of the ultra-elderly, living far later than they might have even imagined. Lee died last year at age 95 of complications of pneumonia, the end of a career that spanned the history and transformation of comic books. Reynolds had a fatal heart attack at 82 — not ultra-elderly by today’s standards, but outliving expectations set by the high life he led.
The elderly were once rare. In 1910, less than 5 percent of the population was over 65, according to the U.S. Census. By 2010, more than 12 percent were over 65 — and that was before baby boomers started crossing the golden line in 2011. Boomers then expanded that age group to about 15 percent of the population in 2015.
By 2035, America will be home to more people over 65 than under 18, according to the Census Bureau.
One in 10 elderly Americans are victims of abuse, according to the National Council on Aging. But that is considered a significant undercount for many reasons, including the victims’ reluctance to report. The very people who are closest to the victims, family members in many cases, are often the ones abusing them.
That was the case with Stan Lee. Lee created Marvel’s universe of characters who bear supernatural ability, yet carry very human flaws. Lee’s superpower might have been longevity but human frailty was his undoing. Not just his, but of those around him.