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Not even in the news-crazy political season that we’re in could the news of Paul Newman’s passing not make the front pages. He was sort of the closest thing we’ve had to a legend in our generation, and he would have been more so had he not worked so hard against it.
As an actor, philanthropist, race car driver, entrepreneur and quiet political activist, he did almost all he could to lift up causes and people rather than himself. Further, he did what so few public figures do today: he cared more about his core convictions than he did building his personal brand.
He’s being praised by so many of his peers, and deservedly so. This is what Russell Crowe had to say, and those who worked for his charity, and those who worked for his racing team, and Casey Davis at The Paul Page. Both the New York Times and the L.A. Times were also generous.
I was too young to really appreciate some of his oldies as I only saw them on DVD, including “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” (1958), “The Hustler” (1961), “Hud” (1963), and “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), all which garnered him Academy Award nominations. Like many, my first exposure to him was in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969). I didn’t realize what a rarity it was that he and Robert Redford were “reunited” only three years later in “The Sting,” my favorite movie of all time.


My favorite Newman roles were in 1982’s “Absence of Malice” and 1983’s “The Verdict.” In both, he continued his penchant for playing anti-heroes while also representing the common man’s thirst for a life that mattered and choices that made a difference. He finally won an Oscar for 1986’s “The Color of Money.”
I’ve found no evidence of him talking much about his faith, but he sure lived the life of someone who’d read Jesus’ words and took them seriously. He didn’t call attention to himself. He raised up the efforts of others. He wasn’t a braggart. He gave away all of the profits. He had a great laugh. He defied definition. The “Newman’s Own” brand, the $200-million plus that’s gone to charity and the “Hole in the Wall Camp’s” influence on mentally ill children will be his legacy far more than the young rebel of his early films or the gentle redeeming force of the rest.
And in the end, cancer got him. But his success didn’t–a lesson so many who followed him might even learn form. There will no doubt be lots of retrospectives counting down his top movies and top movie lines, and I’ll enjoy ’em all. But what I’ll never forget is how a good lookin’ guy played down and out characters with a human elevation that helped me believe I could accomplish more..
And, as I’ve written in my other Newman blog post, he delivered some of the most relentlessly simple and profoundly humorous movie lines in history, an art that I’ve tried to borrow from in my career for a long, long time.

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