Her many love affairs are nearly as famous as her roles in movies like The Apartment and Terms of Endearment, but when Shirley MacLaine recently took the stage to accept a lifetime achievement award, she spoke about the pleasures of going solo.

“Try doing something alone,” Shirley, 84, advised the audience when she was honored at the 2018 AARP Movies for Grownups Awards. “When it’s dangerous, when it’s perhaps, very risky, and don’t stop. Whatever it is you want, don’t stop doing it from the inside alone-ness of your own intuition.”

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With a Hollywood career that began at age 18 and adventures that include romances with some of the world’s most fascinating men, Shirley makes no excuse for allowing her desires, interests and talents to guide her choices.

“I trusted that nothing bad would happen to me,” the unconventional actress, who had a 28-year open marriage with producer Steve Parker, has said. “I was 19. He was my mate, my counselor, my friend,” she previously told The Telegraph, and added to the Mirror, “[But] I could never live a life where I felt tied down to a promise, just because my love hormones were raging at the time.” The actress once also told Vanity Fair in a January 2017 interview, “From the beginning, I was going to be my own girl.”

Shirley admits she had many torrid affairs with her costars during her marriage, but those loves almost always ended once filming wrapped. “It’s a rare and mature relationship that survives after the romance of the fantasy world of the movies is gone. I know. It happened to me quite often,” Shirley once said.

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She added that she never suffered a broken heart because she looked at each relationship as a learning opportunity. “I don’t really regret much,” she previously said in a Lenny Letter interview. “I’ve evaluated everything as more of a teaching thing than whether it was a failure.”

The same curiosity that kept Shirley seeking new lovers gave her the confidence to explore her own passions and interests. In addition to her accomplishments as a dancer, Oscar winner and author of 10 best-sellers, she’s been an activist for civil and women’s rights, a spiritual seeker and a student of the world.

“I did so much traveling alone,” she said. “I was following my curiosity and following my sense of wanting to learn.” Her trips introduced her to people from every background, but they also helped her to know herself better. “I went and lived with the Masai in Africa. I went to Bhutan alone. To make the trek alone [is] to understand who you are,” Shirley, who wrote 2000’s The Camino, has said about walking Spain’s Santiago de Compostela Camino pilgrimage trail in her 60s. “It works.”

Shirley MacLaine
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Now in her ninth decade, Shirley makes her primary home in New Mexico, where she lives with her many rescue dogs, but she flies to New York frequently to see shows. She likes to accept two acting projects a year — although she’s given up having affairs with her costars.

“I have found that since sex and I have got over each other in my advancing years, it is such a relief. My relationships with my male friends are less fraught nowadays, and more equal and honest,” Shirley once admitted. “When I look back over my life, I wonder what I was doing with all my hormones and attraction and longings, when I always felt such a strong need for freedom.”

As a senior citizen, Shirley has known some sorrows, too. She’s been estranged from her daughter, Sachi — who wrote Lucky Me: My Life With – and Without – My Mom, Shirley MacLaine, a Mommie Dearest-type book in 2013 — but remains in contact with her two grandchildren. She also has good relations with her brother, actor Warren Beatty and his family.

Shirley MacLaine and daughter Sachi Parker
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No life is perfect, but Shirley — a believer in reincarnation — feels confident she’s made the most out of this time on Earth. “When you get to the point, as I am now, that you are the maker of your own creativity and your own life, it becomes very pleasant, comfortable and peaceful,” she has said. “I have a very full life and at the same time a life where nothing much happens. It’s the best I’ve ever been.”

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