Grandfluencers are sharing a new view of old age

Special for Infobae of The New York Times.

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. — Robert Reeves, 78, spends most days lounging by the pool, soaking up the desert sun with his friends and neighbors. The four discuss what’s new for him — recovery from a recent corrective foot operation, some chronic inflammation issues — and record videos for social media, where, like the Old Gays, they’ve amassed millions of followers.

On a hot afternoon this month, Jessay Martin, 68, walked across the street for her usual poolside conversation, stopping for a Bud Light Seltzer Pineapple drink from the cooler on the way out to the patio. There, he sat on a padded couch next to a well-hung wooden man sculpture and rubbed sunscreen on his bald head as the group discussed the video concept of the day: an outfit transformation accompanied by the song “First Class” by the rapper Jack Harlow.

“I need to put on my pretty underwear for that,” Martin commented. “I need fit in my parts.”

It wasn’t like the first drag video they did, said Bill Lyons, 78, as he sipped his milk chocolate Ensure. He raised his eyebrows, then said in a stage whisper, “Bob wasn’t wearing any underwear.”

“Oh no,” Mick Peterson, 66, said quietly.

Martin laughed and added, “Well, she was wearing a full skirt!” Reeves, the Bob in question, opened his eyes and played innocent, staring at the shadows of the palm trees that shimmered in his cerulean pool.

It was already getting late for the Old Gays. They still had to learn a dance and film a usable take before Martin’s concert where he would perform Tina Turner songs that night. “My music is everything I’ve ever wanted to do, but these videos are like a big dessert in my life,” she said. “I live for them, really.”

Most of the TikTok influencers who live in so-called collab houses — mansions where they record content together — are barely old enough to legally sign a lease. But the Old Gays and their fellow “grandfluencers” are proof that shooting viral videos under one roof isn’t just for the young. And while these senior influencers perform for the camera, they also share a new vision of what it means to live meaningfully later in life.

In 2030, 70 million people in the United States will be over the age of 65, according to census data; for the first time, the country will have more elderly people than children. Most older Americans live alone or only with their partner, according to a Pew study. And they want to keep it that way: A recent AARP survey found that 86 percent of people 65 and older want to age at home rather than in a nursing home.

But for people who have lost mobility, the increased cost of home care is sometimes exorbitant. Even those who can get by without support face higher risks of loneliness and depression. Instead of relying on younger relatives or paid strangers to look after and keep them company, why not turn to each other?

“As we get older, moving into a nursing home is the expectation, and many older people embrace that lifestyle,” Reeves said. “What we are doing, through the strength of our friendships and our support of each other, is changing the course of how we live our lives.”

chosen family

When the Old Gays began posting on TikTok in December 2020, the four men had already been friends for half a century. Reeves and Lyons met in San Francisco in the 1980s. In 2013, Peterson responded to Reeves’ Craigslist ad for a room in a gay- and strip-friendly house. In 2014, Martin moved into a house across the street.

Years later, a younger neighbor, Ryan Yezak, 35, who had talked to them during their Saturday morning dog walks, suggested they shoot some videos for Grindr, where Yezak worked. However, they were soon ready to bring their talents to a bigger platform.

Today they have 7.1 million followers on TikTok and hundreds of thousands on Instagram, including Rihanna, Jessica Alba, Rosie O’Donnell, Drew Barrymore and Lance Bass. They meet by the pool every day of the week around 10:30 am, rehearse and shoot videos that Yezak edits and posts.

Although the internet rewards boldness, the appeal of the Old Gays goes beyond surprise value to something much sweeter. When Reeves has a doctor’s appointment, Lyons drives him; Martin covers his eyes at Peterson’s lewd comments; Yezak and Lyons fight over the cleanliness of the pool.

“Yeah, we have our family moments,” Martin noted. “But I really care about this little unit.”

The role of a lifetime

Adi Azran, 27, a content producer at Flighthouse Media, a studio that makes TikTok videos, felt like he had had a creative epiphany in June when he showed his colleague Brandon Chase, 25, a video by @ourfilipinograndma, with 12.3 million views, in which said grandmother mentions a pick-up line.

“I said, ‘Hey… can be done with older people‘” Azran commented. “And he had a vision.”

Over the next few months, Azran and Chase devised a script for a series about several retirees living under the same roof, choosing the roles from hundreds of audition reels; if the success of “Golden Girls” or “Grace and Frankie” was any indicator, they had gold on their hands. But the plan changed after the first shooting with the actors. “We called them up and said, ‘We’re going to throw all of that out the window,’” Chase recounted. “You can be yourselves from now on.”

So what do you get when you give six old men and two young producers a ring of light and a platform on TikTok? Retirement House videos are more goofy than shocking: lip syncs to trending songs, practical jokes with each other. And, while it’s still somewhat noticeable that they have a script for the movies, they still stray from the actors’ previous roles.

“I’ve been acting for 30 years and I’ve done a lot of things,” said Monterey Morrissey, 71. “And here I am shooting a 10-second video on an iPhone, and three and a half million people watch it.” (The group has 3.6 million followers on TikTok and 184,000 on Instagram.)

Gaylynn Baker, 85, began her acting career at age 19, when she moved from small-town Texas to New York and joined the chorus on “The Steve Allen Show” in the 1950s. Years later, she has finally found her big break, acting in six-second videos seen on cell phones around the world, at a time in life when most people no longer want to work.

“The irony, of course, is that we are in Retirement House, but I have nothing to retire from,” he said. “I’m having a great time.”

‘May the best be last’

At the same time, ‘more than a million older adults in the United States live in nursing homes, and some of them are also going viral on TikTok.

“At first, it was just a little joke,” said Lou Scott, 78, who lives at Burr Ridge Senior Living in Burr Ridge, Illinois. “Then it went viral and I was like, ‘Hey, maybe I have a hidden talent.'” He is a regular guest on Spectrum Retirement TikTok (93,000 followers), which is produced by a company called Spectrum Retirement Communities and features residents of their senior living facilities across the country.

Scott shot his first video just after spending a month alone in his apartment, and the response amazed him: thousands of likes and comments from viewers asking him to be their grandfather and hoping to be like him when they grow up. “He has brought people to Me,” he said. “When you become inquisitive, you keep your mind and body active.”

Spectrum Retirement videos offer a more modest take on aging in common life than their Hollywood counterparts: practical jokes instead of palm tree patio parties; fluorescent lights instead of light rings. But they express the same profound message. “People are still people even if they live in a nursing home,” Scott explained.

Baker hopes to show humanity and the joy of aging in her Retirement House videos. “To be lucky enough that the last chapter of your life is the best chapter of your life…”, she assured. “If you have a say in the matter, for God’s sake, may the best be last.”

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