LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Dick Van Dyke has been in our collective consciousness for a very long time, from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "Mary Poppins..."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS")
DICK VAN DYKE: (As Bert, singing) Chim chim-i-ney, chim chim-in-ey, chim chim cher-oo. Good luck will rub off when I shake hands with you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...To "Diagnosis Murder" and the "Dick Van Dyke" show, not to mention, most recently, the "Night At The Museum" movies. Even though he seems to be ageless, the Emmy, Tony and Grammy award-winning actor turns 90 years old in December. And to help mark the occasion, he's just published the new book "Keep Moving: And Other Tips And Truths About Aging." Dick Van Dyke joins us now from NPR West. Welcome, sir, to the program.
VAN DYKE: Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am absolutely thrilled. And first off, I want to ask you, how do you do it? What's the secret to staying young?
VAN DYKE: (Laughter) Well, this book is a result of my publisher having come to me about writing a book. Apparently, they noticed I was a little more spry than my contemporaries, especially the dead ones (laughter).
VAN DYKE: And I said, well, really, I don't think there's a book in that. The book's called "Keep Moving," and I said, that's about the whole story. But then, as I started to write, I realized there's a lot more to it than that, attitude and so many other things about enjoying old age, that it just flowed out of me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me, what are some of your top tips?
VAN DYKE: Keep moving is the main thing. Now, I think I reiterate three or four times in the book do not start going down the stairs sideways. (Laughter) That's the beginning. It feels good on your knees but it throws the hips out and the back starts to go out. The next thing you know, you've fallen down and broken your hip. So even if it hurts a little, go down the stairs front-ways.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. In your book, you also, though, talk about keeping mentally agile, doing crossword puzzles. I mean, tell me a little bit about your daily routine. What do you do all day to sort of, you know, keep yourself optimistic and keep yourself moving around?
VAN DYKE: Well, I'm - I - it's more my nature to be optimistic, I think. I'm one of those people who gets up on the right side of the bed in the morning. I get up and have a cup of coffee and go to the gym before I talk myself out of it because I will.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Don't we all? Don't we all?
VAN DYKE: Yes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And one of the things you talk about, obviously, is dancing, which is something you're very well known for, and you still do now.
VAN DYKE: Oh, yeah, I was - they just caught me tap dancing out in the lobby here...
VAN DYKE: A nice marble floor. Yeah, I - everyone should dance and everyone should sing. People say, well, I can't. I can't sing. Everybody can sing. That you do it badly is no reason (laughter) not to sing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You sing every day?
VAN DYKE: Every day. I have a beautiful, young wife who sings and dances, so there's a a lot of dueting going on in my house.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, my favorite part of the book is when you sit down with your close friend and longtime collaborator, Carl Reiner.
VAN DYKE: Yes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a great - it's a great scene. And he tells you he's still in therapy. And you're like, why at your age would you possibly be in therapy? And he says he is anxious about dying. Tell me about that friendship.
VAN DYKE: Oh, my God, it goes back over 50 years. He's not only been my mentor and good friend, but possibly the best comedy writer who ever lived. But his worry about death - I've talked to some other people in my age group who seem to fear death. I don't - I think fearing the dying is the important thing. Once you're dead, your worries are over (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're not afraid of death?
VAN DYKE: I don't seem to have any fear of it. You have to realize that you do have a terminal condition, but I very much live in the present. And I really don't worry much about it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You allude to some of the challenges in your life in the book, you know, your struggles with smoking, alcohol... When you look back now - I mean, you're about to turn 90. Do you have any regrets if you think about, oh, gosh, I wish I could've done something differently?
VAN DYKE: Well, I would've not smoked or drank anything because I think that set me back. There are times when I feel like apologizing to my body for the (laughter) way I treated it. As I said, I was doing an interview the other day. I said I'm not Jack LaLanne. I have all the infirmities my age has.
I have arthritis and all those things, but I keep moving and that way you suffer from it. I didn't discover dancing and singing till I was in my 30s. And it just happened out of nowhere. I regret that I didn't train a little or take some vocal coaching or something. But I just enjoyed what I had and had fun with it. If I had to go back, I'd train.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you have mentioned your current wife and she is, as you write about in the book, a lot younger than you - a lot younger.
VAN DYKE: Forty-six years younger.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow, OK, and you've had to deal, as you say, with a lot of judgment about that. Tell us about that relationship. Are you never to old for love? Is that the message?
VAN DYKE: Absolutely, never ever. It is so easy that I sometimes forget that we're really doing a great experiment here - a 46 years difference. And we work at it to some extent. There's got to be some understanding. Find out what old habits don't work anymore (laughter). And it takes some adjusting and fitting in, but that's part of the fun of it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's the hardest part, in your view, of getting old?
VAN DYKE: Well, giving up the things that you enjoy doing. I can't handle the tennis court anymore. I can still run and dance and sing. You know, I made a habit of asking other people in their dotage if - of all the things you enjoyed doing when you're younger that you can't anymore, what do you miss? And some people mentioned golf or tennis. One woman said I miss having lunch with the girls. But the people who say I wish I had made smarter business decisions, I think they're missing the point.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the point is what?
VAN DYKE: The point is to enjoy. You have to pick what you enjoy doing, what fulfills you, what interests you. And I realize that that's not possible for a lot of people. As Thoreau said, a lot of people live in lives of quiet desperation. But almost anybody can find that one immersing hobby or pastime that they love to do.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the message is find something you love and just pursue it and that's the key to a...
VAN DYKE: And someone (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And someone.
VAN DYKE: Find someone.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think a lot of people at you and think, yeah, that's what I want to be like when I turn 90.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dick Van Dyke's new book is "Keep Moving: And Other Tips And Truths About Aging." He wrote it with author Todd Gold. It was such a pleasure to speak with you and an early happy 90th birthday to you.
VAN DYKE: Thank you so much. And thank you for read - actually reading the book.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I read the book.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW THEME SONG")
VAN DYKE: You know, there are words to the theme song, the old "Van Dyke Show," written by Morey Amsterdam. You like to hear those?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I would love that.
VAN DYKE: (Singing) So you think that you've got trouble? Well, trouble's a bubble. So tell old Mr. Trouble to get lost. Why not hold your head up high and stop crying, start trying, and don't forget to keep your fingers crossed. When you find the joy of living is loving and giving, you'll be there when the winning dice are tossed. A smile is just a frown that's turned upside down, so smile and that frown will defrost. And don't forget to keep your fingers crossed.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Thank you so much. That was absolutely amazing. You've made my day. Thank you.
VAN DYKE: (Laughter) You've made mine.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.