17 Iconic Celebs Who Didn’t Become Household Names Until After Their 40th Birthday

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Hollywood has a long track record of putting “expiration dates” on the careers of its stars — especially women — once they reach a certain age. It puts unnecessary pressure on young creatives and takes away opportunities from talented older ones.

However, there are plenty of celebs who didn’t “make it” in the industry until after their 40th birthdays.

Here are 17 celebrities who weren’t big names in Hollywood until after they turned 40:


Octavia Spencer was 41 when she played Minnie Jackson in The Help, the role that won her an Oscar.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Via

She worked in the casting department of local films before her first audition landed her a small part in A Time to Kill.


Samuel L. Jackson was 43 when he nabbed a role in Jungle Fever and 46 when he starred in Pulp Fiction.


Betty White was 51 when she joined the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and 53 when she won an Emmy for her role of Sue Ann Nivens.


Dame Judi Dench was 61 when she joined the James Bond franchise as M in GoldenEye.


Ang Lee was 46 when his blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon premiered.

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

He told EW, “I think it hit the West in this sweet spot because of the unfamiliarity of the genre.”


Alan Rickman was 42 when he played Hans Gruber in Die Hard.


Larry David was 42 when he co-created Seinfeld.

Michael Loccisano / Via Getty Images

He didn’t find much success during his previous gig as a writer on Saturday Night Live. He told Vanity Fair, “I only had one sketch on the entire year.”


Martha Stewart was 41 when Entertaining, her first book, was published.

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The former caterer told NPR, “I couldn’t find a good book about entertaining in 1982 and neither could my friend, so I decided to write it.”


Viola Davis was 42 when she starred in Doubt, which was her breakout role.

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She’s the first Black actor to earn the Triple Crown of acting: a Tony, a Primetime Emmy, and an Academy Award.


Steve Carell was 43 when he starred in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.


Kathryn Bigelow was 57 when she directed The Hurt Locker.

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With this film, she became the first woman to win Best Director at the Academy Awards.


Ty Burrell was 42 when he began playing Phil Dunphy on Modern Family.

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He told the Guardian, “I’m glad I had to wait until my forties for success. I was not a mature young man and would probably have gone off the rails.”


At 47, Leslie Jones was the oldest cast member to debut on Saturday Night Live.

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Her first professional comedy gig was opening for Jamie Foxx in 1987.


Jane Lynch was 43 when she landed the role of Christy Cummings in Best in Show.

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She was 49 when she began appearing as Sue Sylvester on Glee.


Sir Patrick Stewart was 47 when he landed the role of Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation.


Morgan Freeman was 50 when he landed his breakout role in Street Smart.

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The movie earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.


And finally, Lucille Ball turned 40 two months before I Love Lucy premiered.

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