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The art of aging

"I'm doing about one eulogy a month," he says. "It not like I need the speaking practice. I only do it because these are my friends."

Art Linkletter pauses for barely a second, not really longer enough for the sadness to settle.

Sadness is not a positive emotion. Art Linkletter is a very, very positive guy.

He positively radiates vitality. The phone lines fairly hum with energy.

Today, he's talking about old age. With age comes death and funerals. That's only natural. Dinah Shore was a close friend. He murmurs her name.

He's 81, admits "I've outlived most of my fans," but Linkletter is determined to be "a positive messenger for aging."

"Later years," he amends. "That's the latest euphemism for old age. We don't like to talk about old age. A lot of people don't like to be called seniors. They absolutely throw up when you call them golden oldies."

Linkletter doesn't mind being called old and certainly doesn't mind talking about it. Not only has it added to the already considerable wealth he earned in television and his private oil and cattle businesses, Linkletter likes to talk about growing old because he can convey his very personal pep talk about life.

In tonight's PBS special Art Linkletter on Positive Aging, he goes into specifics, but he can sum up his philosophy in three sentences.

"Keep the batteries charged. Risk failure. Enjoy success."

That's it, Art?

No, he's got seven ways to live longer, with staying healthy at the top of the list. But Linkletter's real secret is attitude.

"We have to change the thinking patterns of a whole generation of people," Linkletter said during a telephone interview last week. "We have to realize you will live 25 percent of your life after your retire."

He never retired, although his legendary television career has waned. His two most popular series are among the longest running in TV history: The daily afternoon House Party ran for 25 years while his weekly show, People are Funny, ran for 19. He wrote and helped produce tonight's special.

"When you get up in the morning you have to have something to look forward to other than another round of golf," he says. "If you have nothing to live for, nothing to do, that's what you are: Nothing."

As he speaks, he peppers his pep talk with questions and rapid answers. The No. 1 illness among the elderly? Before you can guess, he answers.

"Depression," he declares, which leads to stress, which leads to a suppressed immune system which "opens the door to all sorts of ailments."

As vice-chairman of the board of UCLA's Center on Aging, Linkletter immersed himself in the study of geriatrics. To prolong life, Linkletter advises no smoking, drinking, moderate diet and exercises _ rules he has lived all his life.

"Also get a good night's sleep. Stay mentally active," he adds. Then, endearing himself to millions of moms, he finishes his tip-sheet.

"And eat a good breakfast every morning."

Linkletter's passionate advocacy started by accident. As he toured the country giving speeches (including his most famous, Kids Say The Darndest Things), his agent asked him if he would consider giving speeches to retirement communities.

"I thought, "I'll go out and give the old folks a few laughs,' " he says. "And I found a whole new world."

That was 15 years ago.

"The first thing I learned is that I was older than most of my senior audiences," he says. His 1989 book Old Age Is Not For Sissies was a best-seller.

He laughs at the title but he's right. Old age isn't for sissies. Just ask the man who does one funeral a month.


Art Linkletter on Positive Aging

Tonight at 8 on WEDU-Ch. 3

Grade: A