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Paul Newman, who combined Method training with matinee-idol looks to become the personification of the cool ’60s rebel in such iconic roles as the reckless Hud, the defiant Cool Hand Luke and the hotshot Butch Cassidy, died Friday. Surrounded by friends and family, including his wife, Joanne Woodward, the actor and philanthropist passed away at his farmhouse home near Westport, Conn., after a long battle with cancer. He was 83.
In a career that spanned nearly six decades, Newman received seven Oscar nominations before he was finally presented with an honorary Oscar in 1986 “in recognition of his many and memorable and compelling screen performances and for his personal integrity and dedication to his craft.”
But then he pulled out a trump card of his own, winning the best actor Academy Award the following year for “The Color of Money,” in which he reprised the role of pool shark Fast Eddie Felson, the character he first played 25 years earlier in “The Hustler.” Hardly slowing down as he aged into an ornery character actor, he went on to earn two more nominations — for “Nobody’s Fool” in 1994 and “Road to Perdition” in 2002.
Yet, at times, he almost seemed embarrassed by his success as an actor, as if play-acting wasn’t entirely a manly profession. He is reported to have once said, “To be an actor you have to be a child.” And so after starring in 1969’s “Winning,” he found a new passion in fast cars, which drove him to adopt the life of a professional racer. Because of that interest, director John Lasseter sought him out to provide the voice of Doc Hudson, the town elder in Radiator Springs, in Pixar’s animated 2006 release “Cars,” Newman’s last feature film.
In 1975, he came in second at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He won four Sports Car Club of America national championships, and at 70, he was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest driver to win a professionally sanctioned race — 1995’s 24 Hours of Daytona.
A committed liberal, Newman also periodically set aside his career to stump for candidates including 1968 presidential contender Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Earning himself a spot high atop President Nixon’s enemies list, Newman joked it was “the highest single honor I’ve ever received.”
Newman also discovered a deep philanthropic streak. In 1982, from his home in Westport, he partnered with author A.E. Hotchner to create Newman’s Own, a line of food products. Beginning with a salad dressing, it was initially intended as a lark, but expanded into popcorn, salsa and spaghetti sauce and earned more than $250 million in profits that have been donated to charity through Newman’s Own Foundation.
Newman considered it wonderfully ironic that young moviegoers knew him better as the guy on a spaghetti sauce label than for his charismatic portrayals on the silver screen. “The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films,” he often quipped.
The 1978 death of his son Scott from an accidental overdose led Newman to establish the Torrance, Calif.-based Scott Newman Center to prevent drug abuse through education. In 1986, he also created a summer camp for ill children in Ashford, Conn., calling it the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, after his outlaw gang in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” That effort grew into an association of 11 such camps around the world.
“Paul Newman soared to fame with a fondness for portraying scamps, louts and ne’er-do-wells, yet he will be remembered as an artist, gentleman and humanitarian whose extraordinary career was rivaled in every respect by an exemplary life,” MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said Saturday.
In 1994, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Newman with its Irving Thalberg Award because of his charitable work.
Playing a Greek artisan in the 1954 biblical epic “The Silver Chalice,” Newman might have made an inauspicious film debut. But he redeemed himself two years later, playing boxer Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” and from then on, his career was remarkably surefooted.
He realized the heights of stardom in the ’60s as he joined forces with relative newcomer Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy.”
Under George Roy Hill’s direction, the Newman-Redford pairing proved a hip, easygoing teaming — two golden boys effortlessly sharing the screen together. At the time of its release, it became the top-grossing Western of all time. Inevitably, Newman and Redford were paired again four years later in “The Sting,” playing a couple of engaging con artists. Their chemistry, aided and abetted by a tricky script by David Ward and a Scott Joplin-esque score from Marvin Hamlisch, vaulted the unassuming entertainment to a best picture Oscar.
Born to a well-off Ohio family, Newman grew up in the Shaker Heights area of Cleveland. After a stint as a radioman/gunner on a Navy torpedo plane in the Pacific during World War II, he attended Kenyon College. Although he made some halfhearted stabs at acting in college, he often said that selling sporting goods, which his father did for a living, was his true inspiration to get into acting.
After a year at Yale Drama School, he moved to New York, attending the New York Actors Studio, where he was associated with up-and-coming Method actors including Marlon Brando and James Dean. His first Broadway appearance, in 1953’s “Picnic,” earned him a contract from Warner Bros.
Embarrassed by his film debut in “Chalice,” Newman took out an ad apologizing for his performance. But after he returned to the movie ring with “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” he never looked back.
He cornered the market on Southern bad boys, beginning with 1958’s “The Long, Hot Summer,” in which he starred opposite Woodward, who would become his second wife and occasional collaborator. The same year, he starred with Elizabeth Taylor in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” one of the year’s biggest hits.
Beneath that handsome veneer, his characters offered an anti-establishment challenge as Newman played gunslinger Billy the Kid in 1958’s “The Left Handed Gun”; a Jewish freedom fighter in 1960’s “Exodus”; an upstart pool player in 1961’s “The Hustler”; the reprobate son in 1963’s “Hud”; and a private investigator in 1966’s “Harper.”
In 1969, Newman, along with Barbra Streisand and Sidney Poitier, formed a production company, First Artists, and was later joined by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Although the venture was short-lived, it produced Newman’s “Pocket Money” and “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.”
Newman also carved out a respectable career as a director of modest dramas, beginning with 1968’s “Rachel, Rachel,” which earned Woodward an Oscar nomination for her performance as a spinster schoolteacher.
As Newman matured, he began to play more edgy, flawed characters: a fading hockey player/coach in 1977’s “Slap Shot,” an unfairly accused man in 1981’s “Absence of Malice,” an alcoholic lawyer in 1982’s “The Verdict.”
With Martin Scorsese’s “The Color of Money,” Newman’s career almost seemed to have come full circle. Paired with Tom Cruise, the veteran actor stepped out of the shadows as an aging pool shark. The Academy rewarded him with the competitive Oscar that had long been just out of his reach.
Newman is survived by Woodward and their three daughters, Nell, Melissa (Lissy) and Clea, and daughters Susan and Stephanie by his first wife, Jackie Witte; as well as two grandchildren, Peter and Henry Elkind; sons-in-law Raphe, Kurt and Gary; and his brother, Arthur Newman. (partialdiff)
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