The iconic Paul Newman, a dearly loved actor and humanitarian passed away September 26, 2008. The 83-year old Newman died of cancer at his Westport, Connecticut home.
With his mesmerizing blue eyes, amusing personality, compelling acting talents, and dedication to affect lives positively, Newman was one of the most popular celebrities of the century. To his family, those who shared the exciting thrills of a race track with him, the kids who saw unending hope in his eyes, movies fans who didn’t have to think twice about seeing one of his movies, and the lucky film critics who had a chance to sit across from those dazzling eyes, he will be sorely missed.
What was wonderfully apparent when I interviewed him in 2002 was that he talked about retirement but his passions about his endeavors were still so strong he couldn’t let go of anything.
“I keep trying to retire from everything and discover I've retired from absolutely nothing,” he said. “I was going to get out of the racing business and I'm back in the racing business. I was going to let somebody else handle all the spaghetti sauce and I'm back in the spaghetti sauce. I just finished the first play that I've done in 35 years, which is like sticking a rifle in your mouth. So, I don't seem to be able to retire.”
From participating in school plays in Shaker Heights, Ohio, serving in the Navy in World War II, attending Kenyon College in Ohio, and on to movies and stage, Newman was emotionally invested in every decision. He parlayed his father’s tenacity in business into a long and successful career.
Newman’s first stage appearance in 1953 was in Picnic, and his first feature was the biblical film The Silver Chalice (1955) about the commissioning of a silver cup with the faces of the disciples and Jesus around its rim. Newman was so embarrassed about the movie he took out ads in the Hollywood trades apologizing for his performance. While others found his work intriguing from the beginning, the perfectionist Newman had different thoughts.
“There's not a performance that I can look at until after the late '70s with any sense of satisfaction,” he told me in 2002.
By the time he finished Cat on A Hot Tin Roof (1958) (he received an Academy Award Best Actor nomination) and The Long, Hot Summer (1958), Newman had a following. Many more awards and nominations would come over the years. His cunning as a pool shark in The Huster and roles in Hud (1964); Cool Hand Luke; Absence of Malice; The Verdict (1982); The Color of Money (1986); and Nobody’s Fool (1995) all drew acting nominations from the Academy Awards and he received a producing nomination for Rachel, Rachel. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Robert Redford won four Oscars.
Newman won an Oscar for his reprisal of The Hustler's Fast Eddie Felson who saved his best strokes to teach a young protégé in The Color of Money. In 1994 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science presented Newman with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He’s probably most remembered to this generation for his roles in Road to Perdition, which also received his final Oscar nomination in a supporting role, and as the voice of Doc Hudson in the animated film Cars.
Other co-stars and directors felt the same adoration of Newman’s talent. “He’s a genius…you think he’s doing nothing, and then you see the film and you’re like, ‘Wow, I don’t remember him doing that,” said Linda Fiorentino, who worked with him in Where the Money Is.
His marriage to Joanne Woodward in 1958 lasted the rest of his life and was often a subject he was asked about. His answer to the secret of their marriage? — “I don't know what she puts in my food,” he replied smiling.
Newman took a serious interest in auto racing while filming Winning in 1968. In 1983 he joined forces with the Carl Haas car team and in 1995 Newman and his co-drivers won the International Motor Sports Association GTS-class. He was 70 years old at the time.
In his later years Newman was focused on his Newman’s Own company food products for which he donated all the profits to charity. He would also start The Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, an organization for terminally ill children.
His last words to me were not profound but truly were an example of his wonderful humor … “About my spaghetti sauce. Have you ever tried to add bacon and green olives?”
R.I.P. – Paul Newman.