Philip Johnson: Sky High at 92

"I don't like time off because I get itchy," says Philip Johnson.

You might wonder how you could get itchy taking a day off, at your glass house, on 40 acres of land in the Connecticut woods. But then, you're not Philip Johnson, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

Philip Johnson has been called the world's greatest living architect. A man whose designs and daring have shaped the nation's skylines across the decades. A man whose life, at the age of 92, is still a work in progress.

"There's only one reason for my whole life and that's art," says Johnson. "Nothing else counts, nothing else gives me pleasure, nothing else gives me satisfaction."

On a typical day, Johnson gets up before the sun. "I get between nine and ten hours of sleep. Go to bed at 8:30 and get up at 6:00 or 6:30 if I oversleep," he says.

By 8:00 a.m., he's made the commute to New York and walks into a building he helped conceive not long out of architecture school, ready to take on the next big project.

Life, says Johnson, is a battle, and he's invigorated by the daily challenge to do things differently.

The Sony building he designed in midtown Manhattan could be considered a metaphor for his life. Its Roman-style roof in a sea of modern skyscrapers is a bold statement that Johnson won't be confined by conventional ideas about architecture - or aging.

It's an attitude that has sometimes gotten him in trouble. Most notably, his fascination with Hitler's Nazi culture in the 1930s, something Johnson says he spent years apologizing for.

But mostly it's been about staying one step ahead of the competition. Even now.

Hillary Lewis, Johnson's biographer, says "I don't think Philip Johnson will ever truly retire." She says it "was originally supposed to be at 100, he's now pushing that a little bit further because, quote, unquote, he's got too much work to do."

Johnson wasn't always the spry nano-generian his Yale architecture students see today. After heart surgery three years ago, he was bedridden from malnutrition and pneumonia.

Dr. Howard Fillit, his geriatrician, says "Johnson was very close to death when I saw him." And he would have died, says Fillit, if he hadn't received care especially tailored for the aged.

"We got him out of the wheelchair, we got him rehabilitation," says Fillit. "We re-nourished him, through aggressive treatment, through diet supplements and finding out the things that he liked."

"I love eggs, toast, jam," Johnson says.

For the first time in his life, Johnson is now actually paying attention to his health. And he's even taken to exercising several times a week - something studies show is particularly beneficial to the elderly.

"I couldn't lean over. I can now lean over," he says. "That's kind of fun."

With age has come freedom, Johnson says. To explore. To do the things he wants to do. For him, getting od is nothing to fear.

Johnson doesn't think of himself as being 92 years old. "Heavens no, I never think of it at all. There's no such thing as old age. I'm no different now than I was 50 years ago. I'm just having more fun."

His father, who died at 98, told Johnson: Don't live past 95, there's no happiness in it. Philip Johnson is hoping to prove him wrong.

  • Dan Collins

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