Paul Newman, one of America’s true legends and gentlemen died Saturday, September 27 of lung cancer at his home in Connecticut. He was 83 years old.
Paul Leonard Newman was born on January 25, 1925 in Shaker Heights, Ohio. He became one of history’s most successful actors, an extraordinarily generous philanthropist, and an enthusiastic car racer and racing team owner.
Newman, who made about 60 movies as an actor, six as a director, and produced ten more, studied acting at Yale University after serving in World War II as a radioman and gunner for torpedo squadrons. His first professional roles came in a small recurring part in “The Aldrich Family” sitcom in 1952 and then on Broadway in the 1953 production "Picnic," after which his acting talent, classic good looks and famous blue eyes brought him a film contract with Warner Brothers. (As if film weren’t enough of a stage for the handsome Newman, he was also the inspiration for the original drawings of Hal Jordan, aka the “Green Lantern”, one of DC Comics’ most successful superhero series.)
The next year, Newman thought his first movie, “The Silver Chalice”, so awful that he called it “the worst film of the 1950s” and reportedly took out a newspaper ad apologizing for it. Luckily for movie lovers, Newman took the experience as motivation to improve rather than giving up on making movies, and over the next five decades gave us such film gems as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), “The Hustler” (1961), “Hud” (1963), “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), “Slap Shot” (1977, a cult classic about a misfit hockey team), “The Verdict” (1982) and “The Color of Money” (1986), for which he won his only Oscar as Best Actor in a Leading Role following 8 prior nominations.
Although movie buffs frequently think of Robert Redford when Paul Newman comes up in conversation, the pair only made two movies together: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in 1969 (Newman played Butch) and “The Sting” in 1973. The films, which won four and seven Oscars, respectively, remain two of the most entertaining movies of all time. Newman also acted in 10 films with his wife, Joanne Woodward, as well as directing her in “Rachel, Rachel” in 1968, for which both Woodward and Newman were nominated for Oscars.
In 1982, Newman co-founded the “Newman’s Own” brand of food products, which began with a line of salad dressings but has grown to include everything from lemonade to salsa to pasta sauce to popcorn. Newman’s Own, through the Newman’s Own Foundation and Paul Newman himself, donates all its profits to charity. According to the company’s web site, “We anticipated sales of $1,200 a year and a loss, despite our gambling winnings, of $6,000. But in these twenty-six years we have earned over $250 million, which we’ve given to countless charities.”
In 1988, Paul Newman founded the first Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, “a nonprofit residential summer camp where children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses come each summer for an unforgettable experience, free of charge.” The camps do raise money in addition to the funding from Paul Newman and Newman’s Own to cover the costs for the 13,000 children who come to the camps each year.
And for 13 years, beginning in 1993, Newman funded an annual $20,000 cash price for the "PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award," given to “a U.S. resident who had fought courageously, despite adversity, to safeguard the First Amendment right to freedom of expression as it applies to the written word.”
Beyond philanthropy, Newman’s other avocational passion was auto racing, which began while he was working on the film “Winning” in 1969. He first raced professionally in 1972 and participated in the prestigious “24 hours of Le Mans” in 1979, coming in second in a Porsche 935. In 1995, at the age of 70, Newman also won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1983, Newman and Carl Haas began Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, with famed Indy driver Mario Andretti winning races for the team in each of its first 6 years. The team won 105 races from 1983 to 2007, including taking first and second places in 21 races since they became a two-car team in 1989.
Paul Newman was a liberal political activist, supporting Eugene “Clean Gene” McCarthy’s quest for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 1968. In President Nixon’s “Enemies List”, Newman ranked number 19 and was by far the most well-known name on the list. Newman also supported Ned Lamont’s challenge to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) in 2006. And one can’t help but wonder whether Newman’s refusal to play the part of “Dirty Harry” (a decision for which Clint Eastwood must be profoundly grateful) was based on Newman’s political views.
Newman was born to a Jewish father and Catholic (later converted to Christian Scientist) mother. He considered himself Jewish, reportedly “because it’s more of a challenge,” par for the course for a man who challenged the world to be a better and more interesting place every day.
Paul Newman is survived by his wife, Joanne Woodward, and five children, and will be greatly missed by anyone who appreciated great film, good deeds, or simply a joy for life.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter