Howard Tucker Never Retire

Dr. Howard Tucker, the neurologist who is the subject of Taylor Taglianetti’s new documentary What’s Next, holds the Guinness World Record for oldest practicing doctor. So he’s qualified by both life experience and his medical experience to advise people on the art of living long and living well.

The documentary made its world premiere Sunday at the Cleveland International Film Festival — held in Dr. Tucker’s hometown, where he teaches neurology to medical residents at Cleveland’s St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. The film focuses on his grappling with aging as he turns 100, but he’s since turned 101.

“He seems indestructible,” one of his sons says in the film.

The film opens with Tucker tossing around a ball with his grandson, Austin, who serves as kind of a guide through his grandfather’s life. Then we see the elder Tucker throwing out the first pitch at a Cleveland Guardians game.

It’s a skillful introduction: One of the doctor’s heroes is Cleveland pitcher Satchell Paige, who made his debut with the team now then called the Cleveland Indians in 1948, when he was 42. Before then, he had been segregated in the Negro Leagues. Paige is the oldest player to debut in the National or American League, and kept playing until 59, another record.

“He did not believe in retirement and neither do I,” Dr. Tucker says in the film. “I am convinced that retirement is the enemy of longevity.”

The documentary is a charming and inspiring watch throughout. There’s no shocking twist — Taglianetti’s affection for her subject shines through, and she leaves in some digressions that a more ruthless director might have cut. We appreciate the time with Dr. Tucker, who seems to have lived an exemplary life.

This is Taglianetti’s first feature as a director, but she previously directed a short. Her other credits include working in casting on Emma Seligman’s fabulous 2020 comedy Shiva Baby.

More Advice From 101-Year-Old Practicing Physician Howard Tucker

A social media star thanks Austin — and to his grace and panache — Dr. Tucker also doles out some advice on TikTok, including in a video shared in the film.

If you want to live long, he advises, “Don’t hate, don’t smoke cigarettes, and don’t be sad, be happy.”

His comment about not hating comes in the context of the film’s discussion of antisemitism, one of many obstacles Dr. Tucker has faced in his long career. He talks in the film about how his Jewish faith has helped sustain him.

So have his hobbies: He loves cars, is a talented violinist, and loves snow shoeing. He skied until the age of 87, when, the film explains, he broke his neck by skiing into a tree. But he recovered. Of course he did.

Today his major challenges are driving — his family all but begs him to stop — and dealing with technology. An early segment of the film finds him reaching out to Austin for help navigating LinkedIn.

He isn’t much for relaxing, and, as he explains, even enjoys rough air travel.

“I’ve never been afraid of flying,” he says. “In fact I enjoy turbulence.”

We’ve barely scratched the surface about all the fascinating things about the doctor, who also earned a law degree at 67.

The film is a perfect fit for the Cleveland International Film Festival, not only because Dr. Howard Tucker is a local hero, but also because of the festival’s knack for programming crowd pleasers. (The festival is both one of our 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee and  25 Best Film Schools in the U.S. and Canada, and is one of less than a dozen festival to hold both distinctions.)

The festival is marking its 48th year, which makes it one of the oldest film festivals in the country — but not even half as old as Dr. Howard Tucker.

What’s next for What’s Next? It makes its East Coast Premiere at the Miami Film Festival on Saturday, April 13.

Main image: Dr. Howard Tucker throws out the first pitch at a Cleveland Guardians game.