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Paul Newman: Irresistible

Published: 9/26/2013
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Paul Newman (AP Photo)

A Los Angeles Times writer once described them as "Windex eyes." If you are missing them today, five years after the death of actor-racer-entrepreneur-philanthropist Paul Newman, just stroll down the grocery aisle and they'll be peering back at you from bottles of salad dressing, jars of pasta sauce, cereals, marinades, pizza, popcorn and even cat food – just to name a few.

The Newman's Own food line, launched with writer A.E. Hotchner in 1982, is just one facet of this talented, generous, committed, opinionated and irresistibly handsome actor.

Newman, son of a Jewish sporting goods store owner and a Catholic mother who practiced Christian Science, was born Jan. 26, 1925 in Shaker Heights, Ohio. He went on to win accolades for every aspect of his career and life.

As an actor, he was nominated nine times for an Academy Award and finally won for playing the aging pool shark Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money (1986), a role he first played in 1961's The Hustler. Newman earned his first Tony nomination for his role in the 2003 Broadway revival of Our Town, and an Emmy nomination for the televised presentation of the play on PBS/Showtime. He won an Emmy in 2005 for the miniseries Empire Falls, his last onscreen role.

Paul Newman | Photo Gallery

As a race car driver, Newman won several Sports Club of America national championships. As an entrepreneur and co-founder of Newman's Own – among other generous endeavors – he was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1994 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his philanthropic work. According to the Newman's Own website, the foundation has given more than $350 million to charities. One of Newman's personal projects, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut for seriously ill children (named for the gang in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), is celebrating its 25th year. There are now 30 camps and programs in the United States and worldwide.

Newman briefly attended Ohio University, then completed his degree at Kenyon College at age 24 after serving in the U.S. Navy. He had joined the Navy hoping to become a pilot, but those blue eyes betrayed him – he was color blind – and he became a gunner and radioman instead. Newman attended the Yale School of Drama and in 1951 moved to New York, where he joined the Actors Studio.

For the next several years, Newman appeared on Broadway (Picnic, The Desperate Hours, Sweet Bird of Youth) and on television (the science fiction series Tales of Tomorrow and the CBS series Appointment with Adventure).

His first Hollywood movie, The Silver Chalice (1954), was an embarrassing disaster, but it wasn't long before he rose above it, playing boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). From there, his is a legendary Hollywood history of A-list roles, many of them charming but incorrigible scoundrels in films including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Exodus (1960), The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Harper (1966), Hombre (1967) and Cool Hand Luke (1967).

Newman became fast friends with Robert Redford while filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973) and played in almost a dozen movies with his wife Joanne Woodward, including The Long Hot Summer (1958), Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys (1958), From the Terrace (1960), Paris Blues (1961), Harry & Son (1984) and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990).

Newman and Woodward first met in 1953 and married in 1958 after he divorced his first wife, Jackie Witte, with whom he had three children. His only son died of a drug overdose in 1978.

Newman and Woodward's enduring marriage – 50 years and counting when he died in 2008 – was often heralded as an anomaly for actors. The couple, who had three daughters, chose to live in Westport, Conn., far from Hollywood.

Newman was a politically active liberal Democrat – opposing the war in Vietnam and supporting candidates Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey, as well as gay rights and gun control. He was concerned about global warming and was reportedly delighted to find his name on President Nixon's enemies list.

Newman's final performance in a major film was as the voice of a retired race car driver in Disney-Pixar's Cars in 2006. In 2007, Newman said on ABC's Good Morning America, "I’m not able to work anymore as an actor at the level I would want to. You start to lose your memory, your confidence, your invention. So that’s pretty much a closed book for me."

The following year he died of lung cancer at home on his 15-acre Westport property, surrounded by his family and close friends.

"The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster," Newman is widely quoted as saying. "I'm not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out."

Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."

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