Paul Newman is widely recognized as one of the great actors, and perhaps one of the “last great actors,” as stated in the New York Times. He is often considered the natural successor to actors like Cary Grant, and his career, which spanned just over five decades has produced many examples of his craft that exhibit great range, from work in films like Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to his last screen appearance in 2002 as a menacing but strangely likeable mob boss in The Road to Perdition, and then his beloved voice acting work in the film Cars.
Paul Newman was born on 26 January 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio. He showed an early interest in both acting and sports. When not playing high school football, he participated in high school plays.
Newman earned a college degree from Kenyon College in 1949, and married his first wife during this time (the pair had three children). In the early 1950s, he joined Yale University to study directing but was unable to continue at Yale due to financial circumstances. Newman did start to get regular work in theater, had a few television roles, and then his first work on a film The Silver Chalice, where his performance was unmemorable and the film was memorably terrible, even according to Newman.
Recognition in movies came a couple of years later, when Paul Newman was cast in the film Somebody Up There Likes Me. Movie critics suggest he was most successful in roles where he played against type. With chiseled handsomeness and startlingly blue eyes, he might have easily slipped into comfortable romantic hero roles. Instead, Newman’s work was arguably best when he played anti-heroes and flawed characters.
Life may have reflected art a bit. His first marriage ended in the mid 1950s, and clearly Paul Newman was having difficulty with drinking too much. Marriage to actress Joanne Woodward may have provided a calming influence, and the two raised three daughters together, choosing to live very much removed from Hollywood. Their purposeful decision to remain away from the glamour of Hollywood may account in part for their very successful marriage of 50 years. They celebrated their golden anniversary in January 2008.
As an actor, Paul Newman received numerous accolades. He garnered many Academy Award nominations for best actor and best supporting actor, finally taking home his first Oscar in the 1990s for the film The Color of Money. His life certainly can’t be defined by his acting skills alone. He was an avid racecar driver, and he began to evince a strong interest in both politics and charitable work.
Perhaps Newman’s most successful charity has been his establishment of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, free summer camps for children suffering from severe illnesses like cancer. He also began branding his own salad dressing in the early 1980s, under the Newman’s Own brand. Since then, the company has grown and now sells a variety of cookies, lemonades, and snacks, all organic and considered excellent by many consumers. All profits from Newman’s Own go to charities. After the death of his only son in 1978, Newman also established the Scott Newman Center, to increase awareness about misuse of drugs and alcohol.
After a long and successful second marriage, and an equally long and successful acting career, Paul Newman succumbed to cancer at the age of 83 on 26 September 2008. Five daughters, and his wife Joanne survive him. He leaves behind a Hollywood community that will mourn his loss significantly, and an impressive array of film work that is sure to be enjoyed for many years to come.