Paul Newman 1925 - 2008

September 30, 2008 | Comments (0) | by The Hundley

"Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand."

Damn. I guess this is growing up, huh? I've been trying to think if there's ever been an actor that I truly enjoyed who has died in the last 30 years. Maybe River Phoenix, he was the bomb in Explorers and piqued my interest as the possible heir to the Indiana Jones throne, but he wasted his life away on speedballs, so he's out. Paul Newman is the only one I can think of.

My mancrush on Paul Newman most certainly happened the first time I saw Cool Hand Luke. In this movie, he plays the role of the anti-hero brilliantly, defying authority at will, being brutally sarcastic, smug, shrewd, and playing coy like he invented the word. (what impressionable Junior High kid wouldn't get behind that?) He was the guy that got ahead, but not with his fists. He schemed, tricked, and robbed his way to win the movie, but never in a way that caused people to despise him. It was a role that Newman became known for throughout his career.

It wasn't always so easy for Newman. When he was coming in to the acting profession, he initially got some roles based on his good looks. It definitely got his foot in the door, but he was determined to be labeled as just a heart throb. (His first major motion picture, The Silver Chalice, was not a favorite of Newman's. He called it the worst film done in the 50's, and took out an ad in the LA Times to apologize for it even happening.) I can't remember where I saw it, but during an interview someone asked him about his looks, particularly his striking blue eyes. Newman stated that he purposely sought roles that were about the character, not his good looks. He said, "No one would pay money to see such a beautiful man win the woman and save the day." He even went so far as to purposely not be a Hollywood icon. He made his residence away from California, choosing to live in Connecticut, wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes, and even his bottle-opener-necklace that he wore in Cool Hand Luke, all to break the stigma of a "Hollywood Star".

In typical Paul Newman fashion, he wasn't known as just an actor. After starring in the 1969 open wheel racing movie, Winning, Newman took up racing as a hobby, until his passion with the sport grew so much that he entered into the professional ranks, eventually winning the 1979 "24 Hours of LeMans" road race. Newman continued racing professionally well into his 70's.

Racing was not the only diversion from acting. In addition to his racing career, Newman was a well known philanthropist, most notably for starting Newman's Own food products with author A.E. Hotchner. For over 25 years, Newman's Own has sold salad dressings, salsas, popcorn and other snack products, donating 100% of all profits to different charitable organizations. It is estimated that to date, Newman's Own has raised over $250,000,000. Newman referred to the project as "a joke that got out of control" and liked to point out that his salad dressings grossed more than his movies did. Newman also started charitable organizations himself, most notably The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, a camp for terminally ill children, and the Scott Newman Center for alcohol and drug abuse, named after his son, who died of an accidental drug overdose. Newman also co-founded The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), an organization committed to raising awareness and participation for philanthropy in the corporate environment.

Don't Miss: The Hustler, Hud, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Cool Hand Luke, Slapshot, The Color of Money

Also of note: Newman, known as an outspoken liberal activist, was #19 on President Nixon's list of enemies in the late 1960's, after he campaigned loudly for Senator Eugene McCarthy.

4 points awarded to Gray Davis in the Fantasy Death League.

RIP, Paul