We knew Paul Newman was ill and 83, and yet the news of his death is still shocking. Long a favorite actor of mine, Newman had made over 60 films; I’ve probably seen 53 of them. Not all were classics, mind you, but enough were so that his performances will be studied and celebrated for as long as film is a viable medium.
Paul Newman, a sublime actor and a good man, is dead at 83. The movie legend died Friday at his home in Connecticut, a family spokeswoman said. The cause of death was lung cancer. Newman reportedly told his family he chose to die at home.
He lived a long and active life, encompassing acting and directing for stage and screen, philanthropy, political activism, auto racing, and the “Newman’s Own” line of foods.
After serving in World War II as a tail gunner, including missions in the Pacific from an aircraft carrier, Newman studied acting at Kenyon College and quickly found stardom on the stage. His Broadway career began in 1953, co-starring in the hit play “Picnic,” and as recently as this spring he was planning to direct a summer theater production of “Of Mice and Men,” until illness prevented him.
An outspoken liberal, Newman placed 19th on Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” and cited that as one of his proudest achievements.
How can you choose Newman’s best roles? He almost always had his choice of films, working with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Martin Ritt, Richard Brooks, Otto Preminger, Arthur Penn, Alfred Hitchcock, George Roy Hill, Robert Altman, and the Coen brothers.
He had a huge hit in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969), co- starring with Robert Redford. They teamed again in “The Sting” (1973). His acting nominations came for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), “The Hustler,” (1961), “Hud” (1963), “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), “Absence of Malice” (1081), “The Verdict” (1982), “The Color of Money” (1986), “Nobody’s Fool” (1994) and “Road to Perdition” (2002).
Other important performances were as Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956), as Billy the Kid in “The Left-Handed Gun” (1958), “Exodus” (1960), “Torn Curtain” (1966), “Slap Shot” (1977), “Fat Man and Little Boy” (1989), as Huey Long in “Blaze” (1989), with Woodward in “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” (1980), and the Coens’ “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994).
The New York Times obit concludes:
Decency seems to have come easily to Mr. Newman himself, as evidenced by his philanthropic and political endeavors, which never devolved into self-promotion. It was easy to take his intelligence for granted as well as his talent, which survived even the occasional misstep. At the end of “The Drowning Pool,” a woman wistfully tells Mr. Newman, I wish you’d stay a while. I know how she feels.