40 and Fabulous

You know how it is: One day you’re a hip material girl prancing around in a bustier with protruding cones; the next, you’re a single mom dragging yourself out of bed at 3 a.m. to nurse your newborn. Or you’re a starlet steaming through a succession of suitors; turn around, and you’re a modest married type, spending quieter nights at home with the hub—a newspaper guy, no less.

What a difference a decade makes. This year welcomes a bumper crop of famous birthday boys and girls to middle age; for most, parenthood, marriages and even maturity are the order of the day. And even as they bid sayonara to their thirtysomething selves, many say that things are better than ever, thank you very much.

Some, like solo mama Madonna, newlywed Sharon Stone and out-and-proud-of-it Ellen DeGeneres, are savoring newfound personal fulfillment. On the job front, actors such as comic Drew Carey are enjoying the best moments of their careers, while sex symbols like Jamie Lee Curtis and TV Hercules Kevin Sorbo are showing that even on the cusp of their fifth decade they can still send a few shivers down admirers’ spines.

“Birthdays are traumatic only if you are not where you want to be physically, emotionally or personally,” says Deborah Norville, host of Inside Edition. “I am really satisfied where I am. I have three terrific children and a great husband.” Indeed, having tired of serial dating, some celebs have found that domestic tranquillity isn’t such a bad thing after all. “So many different things happen to you when you finally connect with your soul mate,” the Artist (f.k.a. Prince), who wed dancer Mayte Garcia in 1996, told Good Morning America after his 40th last month. “You eat better…you sleep more. You want to stay in the house a little more.”

Not everyone, of course, wants to hang around the house. But even in wrinkle-phobic Hollywood, aging, says Halloween: H20 star Curtis, “is much less of a big deal.” Young actresses no doubt have many more roles to choose from, but, insists casting agent Rhonda Young, as long as former ingenues are willing to play their age, “there is a huge other career waiting.”

Despite combating the clock in the gym, some still see the etchings of time around their eyes and try to cheat Mother Nature. Popular touch-ups for 40-year-olds include eyelid lifts and liposuction under the neck, says Hollywood plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Ellenbogen. And cosmetics aside, health does become a more immediate concern. Because Carey’s father died in his 40s, he told PEOPLE last year, “I’m trying to cut down on my cholesterol. I’m eating a lot more vegetables.”

Ultimately, though, the biggest problem facing many in this birthday bunch is how to celebrate. Some go for oak: Singer Mary Chapin Carpenter’s boyfriend gave her a sapling. Others go for broke: Prince Albert of Monaco invited more than 80 guests to a swank seaside spa in March. “We ended up throwing him in the pool at 1 a.m.,” recalls pal Mark Thomas. Former First Son Ron Reagan (TV.com) claims he received the perfect gift. Just before his May birthday, “I got carded going into a club,” he says. “The bouncer could have been my son.”

Deborah Norville

August 8

On her birthday, husband Karl Wellner, 44, a banker, told the Georgia-born Inside Edition anchorwoman to leave the house for the day. When she returned at 8:30 p.m., a surprise Brazilian-themed bash filled her backyard: 90 partiers, some clad in sarongs or tropical-fruit headgear, danced to samba music and quaffed potent caipirinhas. The mother of three (Karl, 7, Kyle, 3, and Mikaela, 11 months) departed her stormy two-year tenure at NBC’s Today show in 1991. These days, Norville (left, at 1) says her wounded pride has healed and pronounces herself “really satisfied” with her career and “original equipment” body. “I think I’ve made my life choices in the right order,” she says. At 40, “a lot of people look at the future and go, ‘It’s downhill from here.’ I feel like I am just getting going.”

August 16

Since welcoming daughter Lourdes in ’96, the Material Girl (below, in ’78) has been better able to “separate her professional and private worlds,” says makeup artist Laura Mercier. She cut back on her work, cooled her all-night party crawls, took up yoga and found a more spiritual side. “She looks a lot less strained,” says columnist Liz Smith. “It’s pretty obvious that motherhood and maturity suit her.”

Kevin Sorbo

September 24

“Turning 25 hit me big-time, because I was a quarter of a century old and I hadn’t done squat with my life,” says the star of TV’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (above, in ’77). “Forty is not something I’m dreading.” He plans a joint bash with dad Lynn, who turns 70 Oct. 10. They share more than genes. Says Sorbo, who admits he is now irritated by loud music: “It’s like, ‘Oh, no! I’m turning into my dad.’ ”

Drew Carey

May 23

The comic (left, as a Marine in 1980) spent his 40th doing stand-up in Atlantic City—but the Sands hotel wouldn’t let him ignore the occasion. “They brought down a big cake for him,” says pal Bruce Helford, a Drew Carey Show executive producer. “He was appropriately embarrassed about it.” The late-blooming Carey, whose ABC sitcom launched in 1995, is “happy and healthy,” says Helford, who deems him lucky: “He’s kind of ageless looking. People are shocked to hear he’s 40.”

Sharon Stone

March 10

One cure for the birthday blues: Blow out the candles as a newlywed. On Feb. 14, Stone (below, in ’86) tied the knot with San Francisco Examiner executive editor Phil Bronstein. “She seemed totally comfortable with turning 40,” says Gary Foster, producer of her 1999 release Gloria. “She’s settling down.” And staying slinky. “She found a man and an exercise regime that works,” says trainer Mari Winsor. Who could want more?

Scott Hamilton

August 28

“After the ’84 Olympics I thought if I got to tour until I was 30 I’d be lucky,” says figure skater Scott Hamilton (left, as an ’84 gold medalist). “Now here I am turning 40 and still going.” His career could have stopped short: Last year he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Battling back from surgery and chemotherapy, he rejoined the Discovery Stars on Ice tour last winter. Performing “keeps me young,” he says. “When I’m 60, I’ll be middle-aged—because I’m planning on living to 120.”

Jamie Lee Curtis

November 22

Now reprising her breakout role as scream queen Laurie Strode in Halloween: H20, the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh isn’t sure how she’ll mark the passing of her fourth decade. “At one point I was going to celebrate with some women I love—my mom, sister and daughter,” says Curtis (below, in ’78). “Kind of do a chickfest and get a little estrogen posse going.” Though she continues to score regular roles on the screen and TV, Curtis says that someday she may decide to give up the glam life. “I’ll back off when I can’t do my work because it’s hard to photograph me well,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not afraid that at some point I probably won’t make movies anymore.” For now, the star stays lithe keeping up with Annie, 11, and Thomas, 2, her children with actor husband Christopher Guest, 50. “I want to be an active mom,” she says. “I’m doing a bit of snowboarding, and I guarantee you that if Thomas starts to skateboard, I’ll try that, too.”

Alec Baldwin

April 3

“I’m turning 40, and I have everything I could possibly want,” Baldwin, who marked his fifth anniversary with wife Kim Basinger this month, told USA Today. But many say the actor and environmental activist (right, in ’79) has a new midlife ambition: politics. Says Jerry Rees, who directed both in 1991’s The Marrying Man: “Alec and Kim will be the first President and First Lady with matching Oscars on the mantelpiece.”

Andie MacDowell

April 21

The actress (below, in ’76) “has gotten better-looking as she’s gotten older,” gushes friend Kevyn Aucoin, a makeup artist who first worked with her when she was a young model. No gym rat, she stays slim with horseback riding and hiking on the 3,000-acre Montana ranch she shares with husband Paul Qualley, 40, an ex-model, and their children Justin, 12, Rainey, 9, and Sarah Margaret, 3. Despite a few inevitable effects of age, MacDowell, next onscreen in this fall’s Shadrach, “is very comfortable with the way she looks,” says Aucoin. “The lines on her face don’t concern her.”

Tanya Tucker

October 10

The country diva (left, in’ 76) whose “Delta Dawn” haunted airwaves 26 years ago admits to having had a bit of work done. She has had eyeliner and lip color tattooed on (“I just wake up and go”). She’s also considering a tush tuck. “But I always get a lot of compliments on my rear end, so I don’t know if I wanna mess with that,” she jokes. Dating songwriter Jerry Laseter, the single mom of two, daughter Presley, 9, and son Beau Grayson, 6, plans a “big ol’ birthday party,” complete with a cow-herding competition.

Michael Jackson

August 29

Even as a teen idol (left, in ’72), the King of Pop was so obsessed with reaching 40 that he would sign autographs “Michael Jackson ’98.” “He had a fear of dying by the time he was 40,” says biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli. Twenty years ago he also said he’d feel fulfilled if he had two kids at 40. He got his wish. With wife Debbie Rowe (who turns 40 Dec. 6), he sired Prince Michael Jr., 1, and Paris Michael Katherine, 5 months. Now if he could just attain his other goal: to build a global network of theme parks.

Ellen Degeneres
January 26

At a January soiree in her new three-bedroom Beverly Hills home, the comic asked friends for china. High-priced crockery is a definite sign of settling down. Having found love with Anne Heche, 29, and weathered battle to keep her sitcom alive, DeGeneres (below, in ’76) has found some peace as heads into her 40s. “She’s living her life honestly,” says Tim Doyle, a producer of Ellen, “and she knows who she is.”

The Artist

June 7

Even with a legacy of albums, the Artist “is always searching for something fresh,” says funkmaster George Clinton. The Artist (right, circa ’82) says that won’t stop just because he’s 40. “You know, that seemed like my dad’s age,” he told Good Morning America. “It just doesn’t seem like me…as long as I’m jumping off pianos, I’m cool with it.”

Shaun Cassidy

September 27

How does a Hardy Boy face 40? A twice-wed father of three living in L.A. with his wife, Susan, 36, Cassidy (below, in ’77) is more behind the scenes nowadays. His work producing American Gothic, a well-received drama series that aired on CBS in 1995, helped Cassidy land a multiyear deal as executive producer of Fox’s Hollyweird, a horror-mystery series about three undercover cops that will debut in October. “It’s no easy feat to hit the top of one field, as he did in the late ’70s, and then brave the crash to start all over again,” says proud mom Shirley Jones, 64. But stepfather Marty Ingels, 62, says he knew that Cassidy would get wise. “He’s the oldest soul on the planet—a born observer of life and behavior,” Ingels says of the serious Shaun, “but the last guy you’d want on your birthday-party fun committee.”

Samantha Miller and Nick Charles with bureau reports

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