At 76, George Hamilton is feeling more alive than ever.
The iconic actor is earning rave reviews for his role in the satirical political comedy The Congressman, and after recently undergoing a major heart surgery, Hamilton feels as though he’s just getting started.
Asked if he feels retirement approaching, The Godfather: Part III star tells PEOPLE, “Well, it’s interesting because I’ve been through Hollywood since 1958 and have been through so many different times.”
He adds, “I’m 76 now and I’ve been faced with a lot of things I never thought I would face in my life, including the question of my own mortality.”
That question came to the forefront after he underwent a major heart operation last month. “It was an extraordinary experience because you get a real grasp on who you’ve been and where you want to go,” he explains.
The operation replaced a valve in Hamilton’s heart, and the actor says he was amazed that what used to be an invasive surgery only required a two-day hospital stay. “My whole set of values changed,” he says of leaving the hospital.
“It’s an amazing difference in my health and the way I feel, I feel like I’m 20 years younger,” Hamilton adds. “[The surgery] was one month ago, and I’m back to exercising and doing all the things I want to do.”
Besides the physical improvements, he says, “most of all it changes the way you think about your life. It really brings home a sense to do something important and enjoy your life, and it gives you the health to feel like, ‘What am I going to do now? I’ve got another 30 or 40 years left.’ So I’m thinking 100 is going to be the new 50.”
His feelings were put into perspective at a recent birthday dinner for an unnamed “major actor.” The dinner was packed with Hollywood heavyweights, and when the conversation turned to his operation, Hamilton says he put the other actors on notice.
“I told them, ‘I may not be the best actor in Hollywood, but I can tell you this: I just had my speedometer rolled back and I think I have at least another 50 years. So I may not be the best, but I’ll probably be the only actor left. I’ll win by default,’ ” he says laughing. “So I’m thinking now they’ll all go to the doctor and ask for the same operation I got.”
No matter how much more time the operation put back on the old speedometer, Hamilton knows he’s already been blessed. “It’s been an extraordinary life,” he says.
The Congressman is in theaters now.