What more can be said about Al? The prolific artist, American icon and one of the greatest (if not “the” with a capital T) actors of our lifetimes turned 82 today. But the Scarface, Heat and Dog Day Afternoon star shows no sign of leaving the cultural consciousness just yet—as if he ever truly could. Though he is not consistently appearing in award-winning material (who is?), he continued to work in film, television and on stage fairly consistently throughout the 2010s. Now, he’s sustained this work into his early time as an octogenarian, having recently starred as Aldo Gucci in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci just this past year, and in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood back in 2019.
It is definitely impressive that someone as accomplished and as up in the years as Pacino is still committed to his craft in his old age. A role like Jimmy Hoffa in The Irishman proves that not only does the legendary performer still got it, his autumn years have naturally bestowed him with physical assets he can apply to his newer performances. His ragged voice and more labored movements give him a grandfatherly physicality that made him perfect for the role of Hoffa, both sympathetic and disarmingly intimidating.
Indeed, it would seem that Pacino’s ability to “still” “have it” (and clearly he does—he is dating a woman over five decades his junior) along with this grandfatherly appearance has ignited a particular kind of persona thrust upon him by the general public. It has less to do with the roles that he takes on for himself and more the way he is construed outside of his acting work. You see, when a beloved celebrity reaches a certain age, there is a tendency to do something that I’m going to call “grandpafy” them. It happened with Betty White, it happens regularly with David Lynch, but it feels especially egregious when it comes to Al Pacino. Either because these figures are no longer conventionally beautiful, or because they’re inching closer to a grave that awaits us all and we need a coping mechanism to deal with it, there’s an endemic instinct to infantilize older celebrities into sweet, innocent, faultless babies.
It’s true that Pacino’s real-life antics are often charming. It is hard to not find oneself bewitched by his off-screen capers, as he is frequently caught on camera engaging in what could be considered “delightful” behavior. He was recently photographed on a leisurely stroll through Beverly Hills, doing what can only be described as “jamming out” to music on his iPhone through wired headphones. Last year, he was photographed frustratedly (and relatably) detangling said headphones from his face mask. He made headlines for his Shrek collage phone case that eagle-eyed fans spotted in a group photo. In red carpet photos, he appears decked out in long robes and sunglasses that engulf his small frame, the short king having only gotten more diminutive in his old age.
It’s difficult, because 82-year-old Al Pacino is definitely cute. Like Betty White before him, he has aged with grace into a naturally warm-looking figure. It’s easy to force the role of America’s Grandpa onto him, but it’s unsettling when everyone’s collective instinct is to turn an adult into a babied caricature of what we feel like the elderly should be. It’s a weird and thorny type of ageism that seems innocuous on the surface; it seems to be only celebrating the person in question. But it celebrates an older celebrity by diminishing their status as an autonomous and fully realized human being in favor of something akin to watching a cute cat video on Twitter.
As so often happens with celebrities in the social media era, the celebrity’s public image becomes co-opted as a meme, shaped and packaged into something digestible, accessible and, most importantly, relatable to a wider audience. The ability to have such access to celebrities because of the internet is just one small part of what has spurred the death of the movie star. But it also allows fans to create harmful or reductive narratives around people who they want to act like are their friends. Or, in Pacino’s instance, like their grandpa.
In any case, it is my hope that Al Pacino is one day, in reality, a warm and loving grandfather (he actually isn’t yet). Until then, I simply wish Mr. Pacino a wonderful birthday, and that some of you consider the timeless advice of being a little less weird about celebrities on the internet.
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.