It's never too late to fall in love again. Just ask Gerry Turner.
The former restauranteur's dream of a quiet post-retirement life on the lake was shattered six years ago when his wife of 43 years, Toni, died suddenly from a bacterial infection. Devastated, Gerry relied on the support from their two daughters and granddaughters to guide him through his grief, and, eventually, a new plan for his golden years: Becoming the first star of ABC's The Golden Bachelor.
Never has a new lead been so quickly and universally accepted and beloved by Bachelor Nation when it was officially announced that the 72-year-old widower with a love for pickleball would be handing out roses on the long-awaited spin-off. And throughout his appearances prior to beginning his journey, the public response to Gerry grew even more affectionate, so much so that ABC actually changed its schedule to make The Golden Bachelor the lead-in for Bachelor in Paradise's ninth season.
We'll gladly take the early bird special this time, thank you very much.
And it's not as if Gerry is nervous or anything about America watching his journey to find his second great love. No, really, he's not.
"As I went through the process and I was as genuine and as honest as I could be," Gerry told E! News' Francesca Amiker in an exclusive interview. "I feel like at every turn, I did the right thing. So I don't have any fears."
Well, he is a little concerned about one promise he made to his family that he broke mere hours into filming.
"The only thing might be a little bit of embarrassment when my granddaughters see I failed my commitment to not kiss anyone on the first night and I did," Gerry admitted. "And then in short, subsequent manner after that, I think I kissed everyone on the show. Including the cameraman and a couple of the audio people."
And he has a sense of humor, ladies and gents!
But Gerry is taking his newfound fame in stride, explaining he's "ready for whatever happens" after The Golden Bachelor premieres on Sept. 28, and revealed he's looking forward to viewers meeting the 22 women who are vying for his final rose.
"The most exciting thing for me is for the world to see the level of beauty and intelligence and poise that all the women bring to the show—and the energy!" he shared. "If America sees how much energy people of our age have, it will be refreshing to them and invigorating."
Still, Gerry had some initial reservations about becoming the first-ever senior citizen Bachelor, revealing he had to do "a lot of soul-searching with respect to" his late wife "on whether or not this was the right thing to do."
Ultimately, it was Toni herself that led him to say yes.
"I kept going back to the conversations we had over the years that when one of us passed, the other one was so empowered to continue on with their lives and find happiness," he recalled. "We had those conversations, as many couples do, so that was the message I took with me as I started the journey."
Given his age and stage of life, Gerry approached many of the show's trademark events with a fresh perspective, including the fantasy suites, which he stressed was "an open gate to an emotional and intellectual connection" in his eyes.
"I know that the general assumption is that the fantasy suite is for the physical part and it really isn't for me and it wasn't," he explained. "It was the time where I was able to have open and frank conversation with women without the eyes of America on me through the cameras."
And those private talks proved vital.
"Believe me when I say it was the most important time of the journey, I'm not exaggerating," Gerry stressed. "And it has to do with the conversations that happened. If I had gone behind the locked door for the physical intimacy, I wouldn't have come out with the right decisions that I made after those nights. I would've missed some very important information that was exchanged."
Ultimately, Gerry said, "It took me a long time to get to where my final decision was."
But, "as more and more information was absorbed and processed, it led me down a certain path," he teased. "It wasn't like I had a hard time finding my way. I really had good clues, but I had to be awake and alert to see them when they happened."
Dare we say this could be the most mature finale in Bachelor history?
The Golden Bachelor premieres Thursday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. on ABC.