Celebrities Who Found Success Later In Life

For every teenage prodigy is a star who didn't get their big break until their forties, fifties or even sixties.
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It’s no secret that the creative industries are enamoured by youth.

Prodigies, “youngest-evers” and the children of celebrities remain the darlings of music, film, television and even literature.

Accordingly, it’s easy to feel as though there’s no space for newcomers over the age of 25—that, if you haven’t hit your stride by that point, you’re past your prime.

However, this is far from the truth and you only need to look to some of Hollywood’s biggest names for proof. From comedians and talk show hosts to actors, for every tween idol A-lister is one who didn’t get their big break until their forties, fifties or even sixties.

Ahead, we round up the celebrities who found fame and success later in life.

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Viola Davis

Age 43

After graduating from Juliard age 28, Viola Davis worked in the theatre world for years before making the jump to Tinseltown.

Davis nabbed her breakthrough role in 2008’s Doubt, alongside Meryl Streep, when she was 43. Davis’ talent was immediately evident and the performance even earned her a supporting actress Oscar nomination. Davis would be nominated again in 2011, this time for best actress for her role in The Help, an award she would go on to win for Fences in 2017.

Her lead role on Shonda Rhimes’ How to Get Away With Murder also made her a television fixture and household name, before earning her an Emmy in 2015.

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Steve Carell

Age 43

He mad be a famous funny-man nowadays but Steve Carell didn’t get his big break until he was 43, when he starred in hit sitcom The Office.

Since the series’ 2005 debut, Carell has gone on to star in a bevvy of films including The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Crazy, Stupid, Love, and leant his voice as Gru in the Despicable Me franchise.

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Melissa McCarthy

Age 41

While Gilmore Girls fans would have known her as the lovable side character Suki, Melissa McCarthy wouldn’t be a big deal until she was in her early forties.

The actress made it big thanks to 2011’s Bridesmaids, when she was 41. The role earned her a supporting actress Oscar nomination and she has since gone on to star in Tammy, Disney’s live action remake of The Little Mermaid, the Ghostbusters reboot and more.

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Kim Cattrall

Age 41

Cattrall was 41 when she landed the part of Samantha Jones in Sex and the City.

Despite having appeared in films since the 1980s, it was the 1998 release of SATC that would change the trajectory of her life and career. Between the original show and its two spin-off films, Cattrall played the character on-and-off for twelve years, becoming a cultural icon along the way.

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Dame Judi Dench

Age 60

It’s hard to imagine a time when Judi Dench wasn’t incredibly famous. However, despite a damehood and successful theatre career, Dench didn’t break into the film industry until she was 60, when she played M in the James Bond film GoldenEye. The actress would continue in that role until 2015’s Spectre.

She has since appeared in Pride & Prejudice, Murder On The Orient Express and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, among many others and earned a total of seven Oscar nods, of which she won one.

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Ke Huy Quan

Age 51

While Ke Huy Quan did rise to prominence as a child actor in the 80s, following his roles in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and The Goonies he struggled to break through as an adult actor. Ultimately, he left Hollywood, citing limited roles for Asian actors in the 90s and early 2000s.

However, in 2023 Quan became a beacon of hope when, aged 51, he became the first ever Asian actor to take home the big three (the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award) for a single performance. The performance in question was his breakout role in Everything Everywhere All At Once, in which he starred opposite Michelle Yeoh.

Upon winning an Oscar for Best Actor, Quan delivered an impassioned speech. He told the crowd, “I owe everything to the love of my life, my wife Echo, who month after month, year after year, for twenty years, told me that one day my time will come.”

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Martha Stewart

Age 41

She may be a culinary queen today but prior to 1982, Martha Stewart ran a catering business. It was while her company was catering a book release party that she met Alan Mirken, the then-head of Crown Publishing, who asked her to write a cookbook.

She published her first text, Entertaining when she was 41. In the years since, Stewart has released more than 99 cookbooks and hosted several television shows.

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Jane Lynch

Age 49

Nobody could have played Sue Sylvester quite like Jane Lynch. The actress, who was 49 when she was cast in the role, received plaudits for her portrayal of the complicated cheerleading coach. Accordingly, you might be surprised to learn Glee was the first project that afforded her mainstream success.

While she had several small-screen credits to her name beforehand, it was Ryan Murphy’s 2009 hit that made her a household name.

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