For Him, Life Begins at 90

Ageless CEO Sidney Harman delivers an entertaining speech on the importance of education, literature, writing and his secret of longevity. Hint: play lots of golf.
By Athan Bezaitis
Nonagenarian Sidney Harman, left, and Dean Gerald C. Davison

Photo/Athan Bezaitis
Sidney Harman, founder and former CEO of audio-equipment giant Harman International Industries and the first Judge Widney Professor of Business at USC, recently presented a special lecture at the USC Davis School of Gerontology.

“If you were looking for an old fellow, I hate to disappoint you,” he joked, following an introduction by Dean Gerald C. Davison, to a standing-room only audience of students, faculty, staff and Andrus Center volunteers.

Filled with one-liners, Harman’s discussion, aptly titled “Life Begins at 90,” delved into the importance of reading fine literature and the process of writing as an introspective exercise. He also emphasized the zeal with which one should approach waking up in the morning and offered some handy tips to living a long, healthy life.

At 90, he said, he still plays 18 holes of golf, sometimes 23, and travels every other week between Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.

He attributed his active lifestyle as a nonagenarian to his mother, whom he believes “was taken prematurely at 98.” He credited the rest of his well-being to a fitness regimen that he has maintained for the past 50 years without missing a day.

Without the use of cue cards, notes or prompts of any kind, he rattled off quotes from Albert Einstein, Shakespeare and Robert Frost as if their ghosts were whispering into his ear.

On the human mind, he quipped, “It’s an astonishing instrument. It turns on when we wake up in the morning and doesn’t turn off until we get to work.”

On reading: “It’s the juice of a long and vivid life.”

On writing: “It enables the process of self discovery. I read to learn, I write to discover what I know.”

On the golf swing: “It reduces complexity to something sublime.”

The discipline it takes to master the technique of the golf swing, he noted, can be useful in architecture, journalism and business.

He recalled his visits throughout the university to encourage students in medicine, engineering, arts, sciences, business, public policy and cinematic arts to take up the sport at a young age so that it will reward them into their 60s, 70s, 80s and even their 90s. His forthcoming book, which he plans to title, Geezer Golf, will play off of the many metaphors the game provides for life.

“My own longevity and that of others I know emits from an erotic love affair with life. The vast majority of people wake up somehow determined to get through the day. This is not a stimulating prospect. I believe the way to get out of bed is with a leap and to hold the conviction that each day is going to be the greatest day of my life.”

After the lecture, Davison called Harman “an exemplar of successful aging.”

“Gifted with a creative mind and seemingly boundless energy and commitment, he was able to speak movingly, even poetically, about a life well-lived and, at age 90, far from over. Dr. Harman blends the scientific with the humanistic and is, at bottom, an exceedingly interesting person. We were lucky to have him speak to us.”

Harman’s university-wide appointment is one of USC’s most prestigious, named after university founder Judge Robert Maclay Widney.