Rob Lowe is too handsome, too charismatic, too willing to make TV movies to take work as an insurance salesman. That’s a job for dads, and guys without children who dress like dads. Or so I thought. It turns out, Rob Lowe is now in the insurance game and he’s pitching a product so boring that he needs the help of a seemingly expensive superhero costume to do it.
Actually, it might be more accurate to call the Genworth R70 an anti-superhero costume, Lowe’s Iron Man comparison notwithstanding. Meant to mimic the effects of aging on the human body, the suit was built by the insurance company Genworth Financial in an effort to, it appears, make long term care insurance more compelling to young people. Or, as Lowe put it, make aging a “tangible experience they can get their head around.” Genworth unveiled the suit at the Social Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley and invited us to play with it.
It wasn’t exactly fun. The whole point of the suit is to make its wearer uncomfortable, in the same way that America’s increasing elderly population is constantly uncomfortable. There are weights in the suits arms and legs that mimic muscle loss. Restrictive fabric makes it hard to stand up straight and bend at the knees and elbow. Gloves with pads of tungsten on the knuckles make simple hand movements a chore. A helmet muffles sound and provides a chance to look through the eyes of a man with glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, among other vision problems, thanks to a series of rotating lenses.
Unfortunately, Lowe didn’t wear the suit. You don’t pay him whatever Genworth is paying him to cover that head with a helmet. Instead, a twentysomething named Adi Rao hobbled onto the stage at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay in the Genworth R70. Lowe held his hand as he ascended the daunting trio of stairs. “Looking good man… not!,” Lowe said, showing that his time on the set of Wayne’s World was truly formative. Once on stage with Lowe and a Genworth representative, Rao demonstrated the physical challenges of being 80, like picking things up off the floor. “How many fingers am I holding up,” Lowe asked. Rao quickly and correctly said, “Two.” For all its powers to age Rao physically, the Genworth R70 couldn’t give him the mind of a 80-year-old.
After Lowe’s 20-minute keynote, which was more like an infomercial, we met to talk privately about long term care insurance with the actor. As we began and Lowe dumped milk into his cup of Starbucks, I asked him about the aspect of this thing that amused me most: Isn’t it ironic to have a celebrity so well-known for his youthful face educating people on the effects of aging?
“That irony is not lost on me and I think it’s a really good thing. It is not about what you look like. That has nothing to do with it,” Lowe said. “But the fact that that’s a conversation that comes up around my name lends itself well to a conversation about what it really means to be 50 and 60 and 70 and 80.”
That’s a good pitchman, steering the conversation back on the topic. But there’s a problem with Lowe talking about what it really means to be 50. His 50 isn’t most men’s. Lowe recently said he’s reached his professional peak at 50, in part because that pretty face of his isn’t as pretty as it once was. And he’s right. As attractive as the man is, and he really is, the proclamations of “agelessness” are over-the-top. Up close, there are lines visible on his forehead. The skin under his eyes isn’t as porcelain smooth as it once was. His hair, though unimpeachable, arouses suspicion.
And it’s not just his face that’s aging gracefully. Lowe says he feels no physical limitations of being 50. He is aware of his age though. “For the first time in my life when I ski, I let off the accelerator a little bit, only because I don’t want to get injured. It’s maturity, because I never considered the consequences,” he says.
As Lowe passes from 50 to 60 to 70 to 80, it’s impossible to imagine him becoming the real-life embodiment of the Genworth R70, doddering around with a hunched back, arthritic fingers and no balance. He admits as much as he remembers a story about Jack Lalanne celebrating his 77th birthday by towing 77 row boats filled with 77 people to Catalina island. “That’s not exactly my goal,” Lowe said, “but it’s in the back of my mind.”