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Paul Newman Remembered

Analise Lipari | Monday, September 29, 2008

The man with the bluest eyes in Hollywood is gone.Paul Newman, legendary actor, faithful husband and dedicated philanthropist, died on Saturday. He was eighty-three years old.At eleven that morning, I turned on my television without much thought. I wanted to scroll through game day coverage, and to see what else was happening in the world. What I saw on CNN were flashing pictures of an old man, still handsome after all these years, with captions written in the past tense. “Raced.” “Donated.” “Acted.” “Died.”As a member of Generation Y, I know that Paul Newman’s legendary days passed before my parents graduated high school, let alone met, married and had children. But the longevity of his career, his popularity through more than five decades, shows that young people, myself included, have never known a Hollywood without him in it. Our knowledge of film history is undoubtedly limited; the furthest our collective memories can go back is probably 1992. And as great as stars like Susan Sarandon, Leonardo DiCaprio and others who’ve found fame within our lifetimes may be, they’re only a small percentage of the legends on the silver screen.Since what feels like forever, Paul Newman has been a part of our lives.There are always those movie stars that your parents tell you about – the ones they watched when they were young, the ones they or even their parents loved. In my house, those names ranged from Marlon Brando to Barbra Streisand. But there was one man my mother always loved in a way that my good-natured dad begrudgingly accepted, and that man was Paul Newman.He was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio on January 26, 1925, to a Christian Scientist mother and a Jewish father. His mom got him started in acting at an early age, and by 1952 he was acting in his first Broadway play, “Picnic.” It was on the set of “Picnic” that he would meet his future wife, Joanne Woodward, with whom he would forge one of the longest-lasting marriages in Hollywood.Later he would study acting at the Actors Studio in New York alongside actors like Brando and James Dean. Tinseltown would soon come calling, and the 1950s and 1960s held for Newman a string of roles that have become outright classic performances.In 1963, his performance as the title character in “Hud” was an immediate hit, creating a man of substance and emotion out of what was written as an unfeeling thug. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Newman’s first foray into Tennessee Williams territory opposite Elizabeth Taylor, was another classic. Two of his signature roles, the lead in “Cool Hand Luke” and Butch Cassidy in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” would follow later in the 1960s. These films are classics in their own right, but it’s questionable as to how classic they would be without their particular leading man.Later he would reprise his role in “The Hustler,” Fast Eddie Felsen, in 1986’s “The Color of Money,” which would finally bring this multiple nominee the Oscar he deserved.The first Paul Newman film I ever saw was not “Cool Hand Luke,” nor was it any of the others I’ve just mentioned. No, the first film of his that I remember watching was 1994’s “Nobody’s Fool.” In the film, Newman plays Sully Sullivan, a man in his twilight years grappling with the changes that age will invariably bring. His performance was quiet and subtle, forming the Paul Newman I first knew.Later I saw him as a younger man, an actor with power and substance who took command of the screen. He was a man of quiet strength, someone whose cockeyed smile could get him out of any situation. He was a screen idol for three generations, and now he’s gone.It’s funny how you can feel a connection to people you’ve never met, who you’ve only seen on televisions and in movie theatres (or, in this case, on your bottle of Caesar dressing with a laurel wreath around his head).  The whole concept is kind of surreal. In Paul Newman’s case in particular, it all felt so strange. It’s rare that you witness the death of a giant, of someone larger than life. On Saturday, I did.He once said that he was “a great believer in luck, and the extraordinary role that that plays in our lives.” But it wasn’t luck that made him a movie star – it was talent, intelligence and grace.Thank you, Paul Newman. Rest in peace.