Every Thursday night this fall, a man on television convinces the world that love is still possible—at any age. That man is Gerry Turner, 72, star of ABC's The Golden Bachelor. If you're unfamiliar, the long-running reality dating series debuted a spinoff in September, which centers on seniors looking for romance in their elder years. If there’s anyone you’d fall in love with in your 70s, bet on Gerry—a retired restauranteur from Indiana, a tall drink of water, and quite possibly the most empathetic man on the planet. When he cries, you cry. When you cry? Yeah, he cries.
"The empathy and the emotions that are just under the surface really started after my wife passed away," Turner tells me at Esquire's New York headquarters. (Because you're asking, yes—he looks just as dashing in person.) He married his high school sweetheart, Toni, back in 1974. They were together for 43 years—and had two children—until Toni died in 2017. Long after grieving the love of his life, he desired to fall in love again. "I really felt it," he continues, "and when you go through a loss like that it brings everything much closer to the surface."
If you've seen so much as five minutes of The Golden Bachelor, you know why it's different—and far more earnest—than any reality dating series that's come before it. The women cherish Turner (and each other) more than the countless group of twenty-somethings we've seen play the same game. The same goes for viewers at home. Turner reportedly drew in the franchise's biggest audience since 2021. Turns out, life experience has its benefits. "We've slain our dragons," Turner says. "We don't have to prove anything to anybody. It's time now just to sit back and enjoy all our years of hard work. And to find someone who looks at it the same way."
Ahead of the final two episodes of The Golden Bachelor, Turner sat down for a chat about online dating, his skincare routine (or, spoiler alert, lack thereof), and how to be the best version of yourself for others.
ESQUIRE: I know you originally turned down The Golden Bachelor when they called. What gave you the final push to say yes?
GERRY TURNER: The final push was the tantalizing bait of the vacations and exotic travel. I thought, You know what? I got nothing to lose here, and I could probably get a pretty cool vacation. That was what got me over the hump.
When I watch the show, you always seem to have the perfect response to everything.
You need to watch closer. [Laughs.] You don’t see all the stumbles. I walk like a farmer on this show. I was on my feet so much that first week that my hips and knees hurt so much for the next five weeks. I feel like I can see it when I watch.
Tell me about a time you made a mistake on a date.
Well, the last time I was dating was in 1968. I was kind of a nerd in high school. When I met Toni, we instantly connected, and that was a very rich and fulfilling marriage for me as it went forward. But after she passed away, some of the people that I dated in that period between then and The Golden Bachelor… Jiminy Christmas. I had a whole bunch of mistakes. There were some people that I thought were really going to fill the bill for me—be the right person—and then after four or five dates the conversation would start to be about how I was going to change my will. So, there’s been some mistakes, but there’s some really good parts that come out of it.
If you were a nerd in high school, how did you become a restauranteur with a big lion tattoo? Did you have a bad boy era?
I just grew up way too late. I had those big horned-rim glasses in high school. I was a basketball player, but I was also a state champion debater. I started wearing contact lenses when I was around 25 or 27, and that seemed to open up a whole new world. Then, by 28, I was already the president of my own company. All of a sudden I had disposable income. And I was from a poor family. Slowly, after I retired, I got closer to where I am today. I didn’t have to worry about money as much or being a nerd. I told Toni for two years that I was going to get a tattoo. She’d always say, 'Yeah, right.' So, when I finally came home with it, she was a little shocked. I said, 'I’ve been telling you that I was going to get a tattoo!' It was the same way with buying a motorcycle.
When you were younger, what was the perfect date?
After a basketball game, I was notoriously slow about getting ready. The last guy out of the locker room. Toni would always wait. Back then, the cool thing was to go to a dance at the YMCA. Local bands would play. To me, that was an ideal date. We would always leave early and find a spot to park before I took her home. That was just perfect.
What's the most romantic song?
I have a list of songs that I like to dance in the kitchen to. The number one song is "At Last" by Etta James. Also, Celine Dion’s 'I’m Your Lady.' Those are the most romantic songs.
How do you think dating has changed over the years?
As you get older, some of the things you’re worried about fade away. You’re not worried about your career, children, or paying the bills. The emotions are more pure. It’s only about the connection that you have with someone, and not the peripheral issues. I find that very refreshing—and very rewarding.
I imagine that when the women on the show look at you, they envision a love that they may have not experienced since their late husbands passed away. It’s the same, I assume, for you—but you have the power to choose. How do you help these women feel that it's still possible for them to find love even after they leave the show?
I really wanted everyone to realize that this was a story and a journey about hope. I wanted each individual there to feel the hope for a more positive future—the hope, of course, that you will find someone. It’s just terrible to think that out of 22 people, plus myself, only two people win. That’s horrible odds. And all those people who go home may feel badly about themselves. Immediately, from the very first night, I saw how supportive they were of each other. They were poised and graceful. So, I tried to promote that and complement that, to keep it going throughout the entire journey. That’s where some of the success of the show lies. We tried to instill that hope and heart from the start.
Was there anything else that you thought needed to change from the regular Bachelor format?
There was a lot. I didn’t want any of the drama. I wanted my generation to be represented in a much more positive fashion. That we were courteous to each other, helpful, and supportive. I don’t want to sound too negative, but I really wasn’t a fan of the show. Someone in their 20s and 30s has a bit more of a physical component that may be the flagship of the whole deal. There were times where I thought the drama was a bit ridiculous.
I noticed there’s something you say on the show often, especially when someone has really opened up to you. You’ll respond, 'That’s so special,' or 'That really makes me feel so special.' That was a great way to both provide support and avoid that you couldn’t reveal certain things before the rose ceremony.
You’re very perceptive. [Laughs.] Communication was very critical on the show. It was very difficult to have someone express their feelings to me. When they say, 'I think I’m falling in love with you.' How do you answer that? You can’t say, 'Thank you.' So, really the only alternative you have is just to tell them how it makes you feel. Indeed, it did make me feel special. So, that was my safe response. I would think, I don’t know what to say to this person right now. I don’t know what may hurt their feelings. To say how I felt in response really eliminated any problem.
Do you have any advice for young men who are entering the dating pool these days?
There’s a couple of things. Hopefully, I don’t just sound like an old guy trying to tell a young guy something. If I had a son who was in his late 20s and having mixed success dating, I would tell him that, at all cost, be face to face with the person. Act as if there’s no other person in the whole wide world. Hold their gaze, listen to every word they say, pay attention to their body language, and be aware of positive feedback.
Did you try online dating before you joined The Golden Bachelor?
Yes. Some of it was good, some of it not so good. I had a rule that was "60 and 60." They had to be over the age of 60 and within 60 miles. I broke that rule once, because a woman online was very persistent that it could have been something that would work out. But she was about a 90-mile drive away. When I finally drove over one night, she came out the front door and she looked significantly different that her profile photo. I asked her about it in a cordial, organic way, and she said, "Oh yeah, that’s my sister’s picture. She’s six years younger." I still bought her dinner, but there wasn’t a second date.
Are you familiar with the term "ghosting?"
Yes, I think so.
Did you ever have trouble finding the right thing to say when ending an online relationship?
Usually, I would simply say that I just didn’t think things were right. If they wanted to know why, maybe I’d have an example. A lot of times, the more you talk, the more it can become argumentative. I can understand that. People want to defend themselves. It just never seems to be productive. So, I would try to get out as quickly as possible. But, still be honest! Just say that they live too far away or they’re a little too invested in their goats.
Yeah. I dated a woman who was a farmer in Southern Illinois, and her whole damn life revolved around these goats. I thought, No. [Laughs.]
Did you like the outfits that they picked out for you on the show?
Loved it. It was funny, because I think they expected me to be much more conservative than it was. The only thing I said was, "Don’t ever think you’re going to put me in a black suit. I won’t wear it. Find colorful suits." I wanted to wear the stuff that guys would look at and go, Hm, I don’t think I’d wear that, but it’s not bad. That’s the reaction I wanted. But as long as I felt good it in, that’s all I cared about.
What’s your skincare routine?
I have none.
You’ve lying to me, Gerry. You look amazing.
I wash my face with soap and water. That’s it. I live on a lake and I love to be outside.
I have a little bit of product that I put in my hair. I've found the perfect amount. That's it.
If you could do The Golden Bachelor all over again—get into a time machine and go back to the first night—is there anything that you would do differently?
There is. It seems to be The Bachelor tradition that the guy will tell more than one woman that he’s falling in love with them. I did that. I have to say that I’m unapologetic about it because in those moments, I did indeed love those women. I only knew by the end of the journey that one of those women was the right one for me. So, I feel like I said it unfairly to the other two women, and that I built expectations that were unfair. Going into the show, I said to myself as a pledge, You’re going to say to ‘I love you’ to one woman for the rest of your life. Not two. Not three. One woman. Take pride in that. And I failed. I had a really difficult night in the moment, and I just felt awful because I had failed in that objective. You can’t control your feelings, but you can control what the hell comes out of your mouth. Sometimes, I’m OK with it—that I failed at that—and sometimes I’m not.
Did all the cameras add pressure as well?
Yeah, it’s an artificial environment. It’s stressful—and something’s got to give every once in awhile. There were at least two moments that were really hard, and they revolved around rose ceremonies. I never want to go through that again. I would work really hard at developing a connection, getting to know one another, respecting and honoring a person’s past and what they lived through. You really start familiarizing yourself with their whole lives. The women worked really hard at it as well. So, you think, Wow that person is wonderful. Then, you have to say that you don’t get a rose. Believe me, there’s no words to describe it. It’s very close to losing a loved one.
It's gutting, even as a viewer.
Yeah. They’re wonderful women.
What are you most excited for in the next chapter of your life?
Well, I did come to the end and find a happy ending. So, the extremely difficult part of this whole process is that from the moment the taping is finished until the moment the last episode airs, I’m not allowed to see that person. There’s so much joy and excitement—and phone conversations and texting are great—but every moment I want her to be there and enjoy it with me. All the little things. Even a great interview like this, I want her to be here, too.
Do you send good morning texts?
Oh yeah, it’s constant. It’s great.
I have to know—would I get a rose at the end of this date?
You would definitely get a rose.
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