For much of his career, Dick Van Dyke was known for his youthful energy. So it’s little wonder that when the Mary Poppins actor turned 87 last December, he and wife Arlene celebrated with a trip to Disneyland. “What a kick!” says Van Dyke, recounting palling around with Mickey Mouse and receiving a serenade from the L.A. Philharmonic. “We were treated like royalty.”
There’s more adulation in store for him Jan. 27, when the Dick Van Dyke Show and Diagnosis Murder star will receive the Life Achievement Award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (airing on TNT and TBS). “This was a surprise,” he confesses. “People think of me as a song and dance entertainer. To be accepted by my peers as an actor is really a thrill.”
The night will be special for another reason as well: He and his wife, 41, first met at the 2006 SAG Awards, where she was doing makeup. “There was something about her beautiful eyes,” Van Dyke recalls. Unfamiliar with his work, “I knew him, I just didn’t know how I knew him,” says Arlene. “I like that I knew him as a man before I knew him as a performer.”
Their relationship was professional at first, with Van Dyke hiring her for a film. But after his partner of 35 years, Michelle Triola, succumbed to cancer in 2009, “Arlene would come by after work and bring me food,” he says. “She was such a support, I fell in love.”
Initially afraid people wouldn’t accept their 46-year age difference, Van Dyke was surprised by his family’s reaction: “My grandkids call her Grandma. My four kids just love her.” She moved into his Malibu home in 2011, and they wed last February.
Now he is enjoying married life so much that acting is on hold. “I get scripts, but I don’t ‘get’ today’s sitcoms,” says Van Dyke, who prefers to spend time singing with his a cappella quartet the Vantastix. “I’ve got a lot of energy, but I won’t do it if it isn’t fun.”