My entire life, I’ve lived in the same town that Paul Newman inhabited. Ever since I first saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the 6th grade, I always dreamed of one day running into him in this very small town. Unfortunately, this never happened. Even though I never met him, I feel like I knew Newman better than ever today when I found out about his death. I realized he was not only one of cinema’s finest actors, but also a man who did as he pleased and one who gave back to the community. To me, this impact is felt so much for the small things he did throughout his life to make Westport a better place.
Newman died today after a battle with cancer. He was 83.
Newman was born in 1925 in Ohio. His early career consisted of small roles on stage and TV and he began to make an impression on film in the mid to late fifties with Somebody Up there Likes Me (1956). Somebody up there really did like Paul. In the years to come, he would hit a goldmine with lauded performances in films like Hud (1962), The Hustler (1961), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). For me, Newman’s finest hour was with 1967′s Cool Hand Luke. In that, he played titular criminal Luke stuck in a Southern prison under a very strict warden.
In this performance, he brought in a fine amount of humor, as well as heart. The scene in which he sings and plays a song on the banjo after finding out about his mother’s death is still one of the saddest and most moving scenes I’ve ever scene on film.
Mainly, Luke was an outcast. A rebel. He keeps trying to escape. In this way, Luke and Newman were not too different. He never let anything get the best of him. In recent years, he became a race car driver (something few could do at any age). During one race, his car caught on fire. He was in his 80s and he just simply, walked out. And I’m sure he had a smile on his face even his last days, just like the one Luke had not long before his death.
In the late 60s and 70s, Newman went on to score huge box office success with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and Best Picture winner The Sting (1973). In these two movies, Newman formed one of cinema’s great on screen duos with Robert Redford.
After being nominated for over 10 Oscars, Newman finally brought home a statue in 1986 for Hustler sequel The Color of Money.
In the last decade, Newman slowed down making movies. Although, he managed to pull of another Oscar Nomination with Road to Perdition and a box office hit with Cars.
Newman’s performance will never be forgotten but his most important achievement was his humanitarian work. With his food line Newman’s Own as well as the Hole in the Wall Gang, Newman raised over $200 Million. Every cent went to charity. Around Westport, Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward of 50 years helped make the Westport Playhouse what it is today. Living in a big (but not too big) house hidden in a nice area of town, Newman never tried to stick out as a giant movie star and blended in as a member of the community. And that’s what he was, not a big flashy movie star, but a man who acted as a part of the community, and gave back to it as well.
Newman is not only a model for how to be a good actor, but an inspiration on how to be a good human being. He lived a wealthy life but always gave back. With his famous blue eyes, he was always considered a hearthrob yet he always remained faithful to his wife.
Paul Newman changed cinema. He was one of few living actors in line with (or maybe even better than) Marlon Brando and James Dean. And unlike many of the successful in showbiz, he gave back out of the kindness of his heart, not for publicity. Now that Newman is gone Westport will seem different, empty, and the movies will feel the same as well. Never will there be another actor like Paul Newman.
My prayers go out to Newman’s family and friends. Rest in Peace Paul. Your performances and your life will forever remain an inspiration to me.