30 icons who never would have made a 30 under 30 list

30 icons who never would have made a 30 under 30 list

Jan 7, 2014

Forbes released its 30 Under 30 lists this week, and I’d like to congratulate everyone who appeared. This list, however, is for the rest of us. Here are 30 overwhelmingly successful people who changed the world but who didn’t start receiving attention until they were over 30:

1. George Clooney
At age 30, Clooney was a working television actor. His most notable credit at that time was 11 episodes guest-starring on “Roseanne.”

2. Leonardo Da Vinci
Acquitted of sodomy at 24, Da Vinci received two commissions before turning 30—the altarpiece for the Chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo Vecchio and The Adoration of the Magi. Neither was completed when, at 30, he moved to Milan.

3. Dwight D. Eisenhower
He graduated middle of his class at West Point. By 30 he was already a major, but I don’t think anyone expected him to become Supreme Allied Commander against Hitler or President of the United States.

4. Prophet Muhammad
At 30, Muhammad was a merchant in Mecca, happily married to a woman 15 years his senior. His first Qu’ranic revelation comes at 40.

5. Elizabeth Warren
On her 30th birthday, Elizabeth Warren was a divorced mother of 2, a graduate of Rutgers-Newark Law School, and a junior University of Houston law professor. Impressive, but no one was putting her on any lists.

6. Mark Twain
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” the work that first brought him any attention, was published 12 days before he turned 30.

7. Michael Bloomberg
Bloomberg made general partner at Salomon Bros at 31. He was laid off at 39 with $10 million severance, which he used to start Bloomberg LP.

8. Fiorello La Guardia
At 30, the greatest mayor in the history of New York had only been a lawyer for two years.

9. Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh died unknown at 37. His great works were all created after he turned 30.

10. Franz Kafka
Kafka had written “The Judgment” and “The Metamorphosis by the time he was 30, but published very little in his lifetime.

11. Cesar Chavez
Chavez was just another Latino community organizer at 30. He co-founded the National Farm Workers Association at the age of 35.

12. George Orwell
Orwell at 30 was a high school teacher and former colonial policeman. His first novel, “Burmese Days,” was published when he was 31 to no great acclaim.

13. William Faulkner
Faulkner published two novels, but neither received much attention. He started writing about Yoknapatawpha County at 29, and began “The Sound and the Fury” just before he turned 31.

14. David Simon
At 30, the creator of “The Wire” was a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. His book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets came out when he was 31.

15. Leonard Cohen
Cohen’s first album was released when he was 32. Before that, he wrote poetry and fiction and lived off a modest trust fund.

16. Dick Cheney
After being a 28-year-old White House intern, Cheney became a White House Staff Associate at 30.

17. Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman
The two great Union generals were not particularly prominent before the Civil War, which started when they were roughly forty. Sherman married the daughter of a prominent politician at 30, and Grant displayed great bravery during the Mexican War while in his twenties.

18. Raymond Chandler
Chandler became a detective writer at the age of 44, after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Depression.

19. Joss Whedon
At 30, Whedon had been a writer for “Roseanne” (while Clooney was on it!) and had written the script for the film “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.”

20. Emily Dickinson
Dickinson began writing seriously at 28. She’d published one poem, anonymous and highly-edited, before 30. She achieved no fame in her lifetime.

21. Wallace Stevens
Poets peak late. Stevens’ first major publication was at age 35, and most of his canonical works were written after he was 50.

22. Edgar Degas
Degas first exhibited in the Salon at age 31, and his work attracted little attention. He produced most of his great works in his 40s.

23. Billy Bob Thornton
Thornton didn’t even become an actor until he was roughly 30. “Sling Blade” was released when he was 40.

24. Colonel Sanders
Sanders occupied a variety of jobs until opening a roadside stand at age 40.

25. Alan Rickman
While he did some stage acting from his late twenties on, Rickman’s first significant British TV role came when he was 36. Then he went to Broadway at 41, and eventually played Hans Gruber in “Die Hard” at 42.

26. Toni Morrison
Her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was published when she was 39. She won the Pulitzer at 57 and the Nobel at 62.

27. Steve McQueen
Before directing “Hunger,” “Shame,” and “12 Years A Slave,” McQueen was a video artist. He did win the Turner Prize at age 30, although much of the publicity went to Tracey Emin, who was also a nominee. “Hunger” wasn’t released until he was 39.

28. Martha Graham
At 30, the most influential choreographer of modern dance had only just left the Denishawn School a year earlier.

29. Alexander Payne
Received his MFA from UCLA Film School at 29. Directed his debut feature, “Citizen Ruth,” at 35.

30. Michael Haneke
Perhaps the best European director of his generation made his TV directorial debut at 32. His first feature came out when he was 47.

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