A new start after 60: ‘I almost died of cancer. Then I became an actor – at 63!’

Julian Bird was a psychiatrist when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer – and began daydreaming about being an actor. Seventeen years later, he is playing the lead at a London theatre

When Julian Bird was 60, he was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. He had a series of operations, “all very unpleasant”, and learned that he “was likely to die pretty soon”. After 34 years as a psychiatrist, in that intense state of mind, he began to daydream about becoming a professional actor.

The bleak prognosis held for only a few months, and as he recovered Bird reevaluated his life “and what to do with what was left of it”. At the age of 63, he enrolled at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. This month, at 80, he is the lead in the play Freud’s Last Session, at the King’s Head theatre, in north London.

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