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Broadway star Joel Grey comes out as gay at 82

Joel Grey, with daughter Jennifer Grey and a photograph of his character in the film “Cabaret” in Hollywood in 2012. (Reuters)
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In a nation still unsure about its attitudes toward men attracted to other men, even the star of “Cabaret” had to wait eight decades to come out.

Joel Grey, 82-year-old film actor and Broadway star, told People he is gay in a recent interview.

“I don’t like labels,” Grey said, “but if you have to put a label on it, I’m a gay man.” 

Grey said his family had known about his sexuality for some time, but homophobia kept him in the closet for years. Growing up in Cleveland attracted to both boys and girls, Grey told the magazine about “hearing the grownups talk in the next room, my mother included, talking derisively about ‘fairies’ and men being dragged off to jail and even worse for being who they were.” 

Grey’s turn as the master of ceremonies in “Cabaret,” in which he appeared in drag, earned him an Academy Award and a Tony. He also appeared in “Chicago” and “Wicked.”

For Gen Xers and those under 30, Grey may be best-known as the father of “Dirty Dancing” star Jennifer Grey, one of his two children with Jo Wilder, to whom he was married for 24 years. He also appeared as the Asian sensei in “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins,” an early cable TV favorite also starring Fred Ward.

“I feel very happy for my dad that he has come to a point in his life where he feels safe and comfortable enough to declare himself in a public way as a gay man,” Jennifer Grey told People. “Mostly because the more people are free to own their true nature and can hopefully come closer to love and accept themselves as they really are, no matter what age, no matter how long it takes, to finally be free of the lies or half truths, it is freedom.” 

Though a plot point in movies and shows such as “Beginners” and the Emmy-winning “Transparent,” older Americans seem to be coming out of the closet or exploring their sexuality in increasing numbers.

“Increased awareness and acceptance of varied sexualities and gender identities has led Americans to come out far younger, as early as middle school,” the Miami Herald wrote in 2010. “A less noticed but parallel shift is happening at the other end of the age spectrum, with people in their 60s, 70s and 80s coming to terms with the truth that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

According to a University of California at Los Angeles study cited by the nonprofit Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE), there are at least 1.5 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people older than 65 in the United States. That population is expected to double by 2030.

“Our constituents in some ways face all the challenges that older people face in general,” Michael Adams, SAGE’s executive director, said in 2010. However, older LGBT adults also face “high levels of social isolation, because most of our constituents do not have children, the majority of them are single and many of them unfortunately are disconnected from their families.”

Adams said some older Americans’ bias against homosexuals can make life difficult for those “gray and gay.”

“An elderly lesbian or gay man who is living alone and wants to walk down the street and go to their local senior center … to know that if they walk into that building, in order to be treated well they have to hide who they are — that’s a very difficult thing,” he said.