'The Golden Bachelor' Gerry Turner reveals what his late wife would think of reality TV stint

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LOS ANGELES – Who is "The Golden Bachelor" Gerry Turner?

That's the question America has wondered since the widower from Hudson, Indiana, now 72, was plucked out of obscurity and named the first senior citizen "Bachelor" in July.

This answer will come as "The Golden Bachelor" kicks off Thursday (8 EDT/PDT), featuring the retired restaurateur and doting granddad meeting 22 candidates, all women aged 60 to 75, at the famed Bachelor Mansion.

"Bachelor" producers had been looking to put life and a new wrinkle in a 27-season franchise that dates back to 2002. That will come with the blue-eyed, 6-foot-1 Turner, a "hopeless romantic" looking for new forever love in his golden years. The show newbie cites the first "Bachelorette" Trista Sutter, 50, married to Ryan Sutter for 19 years, as giving the best advice.

"Trista told me 'Gerry, don't look for the woman that you can live with. Look for the woman you can't live without,'" says Turner. "I kept that thought at the forefront for the show. And it worked out."

Here's more about "The Golden Bachelor," who spoke to USA TODAY about his journey to find love:

Gerry Turner gets ready to kick off ABC's "The Golden Bachelor"
Gerry Turner gets ready to kick off ABC's "The Golden Bachelor"

Gerry Turner believes his late wife would 'totally be in favor' of 'Golden Bachelor'

Turner was married to his high school sweetheart Toni for 43 years. But Toni died suddenly due to complications from a bacterial infection in 2017 after the couple had just finished their dream retirement lake house. He mourned the loss for years.

"I'm not gonna lie, it was a long, slow process to get to the point where I could talk about (Toni) without, becoming completely emotional," says Turner, who believes his late wife would bless his decision to take on "The Golden Bachelor."

"I had some concerns at first that maybe if she were here looking over my shoulder, that she wouldn't think positively about it," says Turner. "But I was reminded of all the conversations that we had, that when one of us passed we wanted and hoped the other one, the survivor, would go through the process of grieving, but still find happiness in life."

Turner says he found "peace with that. I think (Toni) would totally be in favor of what I'm doing."

It's show time! Gerry Turner prepares for "The Golden Bachelor."
It's show time! Gerry Turner prepares for "The Golden Bachelor."

What does Gerry Turner's family think of 'The Golden Bachelor'

Turner's two grown "Bachelor"-loving daughters, Angie and Jenny, urged the two-time grandfather to apply for what was then called "Senior Bachelor."

"At first I thought, 'That's silly!' But then I thought. I've got nothing to lose. I wasn't dating anyone," says Turner. "And to my surprise, I got a callback. That's how this all started."

The family support has not wavered, even if Turner admits to breaking one promise about first-night introductions.

"I told my daughters and my two granddaughters, 'You guys don't have to worry about me being the guy that kisses on the first night. I'm not going to do it,'" says Turner, flashing a chagrined smile. "I failed."

What's different about 'Golden Bachelor'?

It's the same "Bachelor" concept, same house, same roses. But the show, hosted by former "Bachelor" Jesse Palmer, features streamlined hourlong episodes. And, the 23 participants have significantly more life experience.

In the premiere, Turner meets all 22 candidates in a marathon session, including Patty James, 70, mother of Season 25 Bachelor Matt James and Faith, a 60-year-old high school teacher who rides up on a motorcycle.

Turner is proud that an early scene features him in a tuxedo putting on his hearing aid.

"I don't want anyone to be even a little bit embarrassed if they show the symptoms of being 70 years old," says Turner. "I don't care if people notice that I have a hearing aid. It's something I need. I'm happy to display it without any trepidation."

The show's theme is all about finding happiness regardless of years.

"Just because you're of a certain age doesn't mean that you've lost your vigor, your energy, or your optimistic life outlook," says Turner. "That same idea was reinforced over and over again in conversations I had with the women in the house."

The contestants: 'The Golden Bachelor' women are here. Meet the contestants for Gerry Turner's season.

How do you say 'Golden Bachelor' Gerry Turner's name? Not as it looks.

Turner says he uses a Gaelic pronunciation of Gerry (that sounds like Gary). But alternate pronunciation is not a dealbreaker, especially after his Catholic school upbringing.

"When I was in the third grade the nuns would tell me my name was Jerry," says Turner. "When I said it differently, like Gary, they'd rap my knuckles. I learned to not be sensitive about how my name was pronounced ever since."

Where to find it: The premiere of 'The Golden Bachelor' is almost here. How to watch Gerry Turner find love.

Does Gerry Turner find true love on 'Golden Bachelor'?

Turner completed filming "The Golden Bachelor" months ago and is now a certified reality star who can't go to dinner in his hometown without requests for selfies and autographs. He's enjoying it.

"I know that the clock on my 15 minutes of fame is ticking," says Turner. "And when the 15 minutes are up, I want to feel I got every second's worth."

As to where the wedding ring-less Turner is love-wise, that's a franchise state secret to be revealed in the show's finale. He will only say he's still "completely optimistic" about love.

"I believe there's someone for everyone," says Turner. "If you're open to the opportunity, hopeful and allow yourself to be vulnerable, good things will always happen for you."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Golden Bachelor' Gerry Turner talks late wife, first-night kisses