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.

She won for Best Supporting Actress

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Via youtube.com

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.

You may recognize him as Nick Fury in the MCU


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.

Actor who played Rose on


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

She played the role until 2015's


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.

Actor who played Severus Snape in


Larry David was 42 when he co-created Seinfeld.

Star of

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.

TV personality

Cindy Ord / Getty Images

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.

She became the star of

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Via youtube.com

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.

Michael Scott from


Kathryn Bigelow was 57 when she directed The Hurt Locker.

She also directed

Michael Caulfield / WireImage / Via Getty Images

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.

He was on Broadway beforehand

NBC / Via youtube.com

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.

She made her first appearance on

NBC / Via youtube.com

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.

Actor who played Sue Sylvester on

Warner Bros. Pictures / Via youtube.com

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.

He also plays Professor X in the X-Men movies


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

He played Leo Smalls

Cannon Group / Via youtube.com

The movie earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.


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

The show was based on her radio show

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