At his stage in life, social pursuits that risk making your heart start beating like a big brass band are supposed to be strictly off-limits. But Dick Van Dyke doesn't care: he's just become a happy newlywed at the age of 86.
The Hollywood star, who in the 1964 film Mary Poppins gave voice to the most famous mockney accent in the history of entertainment, announced yesterday that he has married his make-up artist, Arlene Silver. She is 40. A "spur of the moment" wedding took place at a chapel near his home in Malibu on 29 February, Van Dyke revealed in a videotaped interview with a show-business website. Embracing his new spouse, he declared: "I'm looking forward to a long and happy marriage."
The actor's nuptials fall into a grand Hollywood tradition of so-called "May to December" romances. The wedding was witnessed by a few close friends, along with Ms Silver's family, said a spokesman. Van Dyke's four children did not choose to attend. "I got married on 29 February, kind of on the spur of the moment," he told a videographer from the website RumorFix. "We decided that a leap day would be the best day to do it. Her name was Arlene Silver. She's now Arlene Silver Van Dyke."
Van Dyke was last married in 1948, in a ceremony broadcast live on the television show Bride and Groom. He had four children with his first wife, Margie Willett, but they divorced in the mid-1980s after a long separation.
His subsequent life partner, actress Michelle Triola, died from lung cancer in 2009. They had been together for four decades. Since her death, Van Dyke, who spent the 1990s starring in the hit TV series Diagnosis Murder, has wound down his acting career. His last role in a major movie was a cameo in Night at the Museum, released in 2006.
In a touching joint interview, Van Dyke told how he first met Ms Silver that spring, in the green room at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. "She passed through and I was bowled over by her beauty," he recalled. He ended up hiring Ms Silver as his make-up artist. Romance didn't blossom until "the last couple of years".
"She became my make-up artist, then worked her way all the way up to wife," he said. "It's wonderful, wonderful. I'm not a loner. I have to have a life partner, and I've found the perfect one." Van Dyke's new wife added: "He's the happiest person I've ever met. He's got an infectious spirit: always singing, always humming, always in a good mood."
News of the marriage has raised eyebrows among commentators, who point out that the new Mrs Van Dyke wasn't even born when her husband's eponymous prime-time TV show – the source of much of his fortune – was launched in the early 1970s.
Several newspapers borrowed the headline "Gor Blimey!" from Van Dyke's catchphrase as Bert the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins – the movie that first propelled him to international stardom.
The publicist Bob Palmer, a longstanding friend of Van Dyke, told the Associated Press: "I've never seen him happier. She adds a lot to his life."