January 29, 2015 04:05 PM

In this week’s PEOPLE, Broadway legend Joel Grey, 82, publicly reveals for the first time that he’s a gay man.

So, why now?

“[Sexuality] doesn’t matter any more,” Grey, who’s had a career spanning over seven decades, tells PEOPLE. As proof, he points to another gay Broadway and Hollywood star who’s been an inspiration to him.

Neil Patrick Harris is a star in every way,” Grey says. “And he’s a dad. He’s the most gifted, charming, talented actor who is himself, and that’s it. There are no limits.”

Harris is “one of my heroes,” he adds. “He is just excellent at everything, and he is totally who he is.”

It wasn’t always this way for gay men in show business.

“When I started to come up in the business, like Neil Patrick Harris, no one ever talked about their sexuality,” says Grey, the legendary star of Cabaret. “It was hidden. It was held against you. It was really dreadful. It could have finished a career if anyone knew. So everyone was very, very careful and fearful about it.”

“It’s not like that now,” says Grey, who was married for 24 years and raised two children, including the actress Jennifer Grey.

Grey is now focusing on what’s ahead – his fifth book of photos and a memoir, due later this year. And his message, he says, is simple. “Be yourself, embrace yourself,” he says. “And whatever it is you are, you are something wonderful.”

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