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Paul Newman, 1925-2008

by DeAnn Welker September 29, 2008 11:18 am
Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Paul Newman died on Friday, and the whole world mourned. There isn't much to say about Paul Newman that hasn't been said already, and better. Well, there is actually probably a great deal more to say, but it's hard to find the words, or the means, to sum up the man. I use the word "man" here because he was so much more than an actor, even though he was one of the best of his time. But "actor" is too small -- and, frankly, unimportant -- compared with what he did with his life. He was a family man, a race car driver, and a philanthropist.

So, instead of trying to say anything new about the man who is better known to young people for salad dressing than for his films, but who was revered by those young people's parents as a fine actor and a blue-eyed heartthrob, I'll let some of the other tributes do the talking:

- The Guardian has comments from his friends and family, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Sally Field, and Richard Attenborough.

- ABC News offers more stars mourning Newman, including his good friend, Robert Redford, along with Susan Sarandon, Sidney Poitier, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, and more.

- The Times Online offers a lovely essay on why losing Newman is such a loss. A sample: "In an era of fame debased by I'll-remember-their-name-in-a-minute celebrities, Newman was an old-school Hollywood star. Yet he never took himself too seriously."

- Film critic and author Shawn Levy wrote a moving tribute to Newman. Levy's currently working on a book about Newman, and he knows his subject. To wit: "For a half-century, on screen and off, the actor Paul Newman embodied certain tendencies in the American male character: active and roguish and earnest and sly and determined and vulnerable and brave and humble and reliable and compassionate and fair. He was a man of his time, a part of his time, and that time ranged from World War II to the contemporary era of digitally animated feature films."

And: "He was a giant-sized star who shunned celebrity, living in Connecticut, avoiding awards shows, refusing for many years to give autographs, and sometimes resentful that so much of his fame rested on the unearned blessings of a handsome face, a lean body and, most notably, those stunning cobalt-blue eyes."

- Peter Travers wrote his own farewell piece for Rolling Stone, which starts out so beautifully: "I had hoped he would stay alive if only to spite the doomsayers. For nearly a year the press has been writing premature obits for Paul Newman. His cancer treatments tipped them off. Asked about his health, Newman's reply was always a terse, "I'm doing nicely." Now he isn't. Now, at 83, he's gone. I'm not going to say acting has lost one of its last legit icons. That's obvious."

Newman was even the focus of a memorable line on Friends, when Chandler had cold feet about marrying Monica because "The only man who can make marriage work is Paul Newman, and I know me. I am no Paul Newman. I don't race cars. I don't make popcorn. And none of my proceeds go to charity." When you're referenced on a pop-culture phenomenon like Friends, you know you've reach a certain point that few ever reach. But that's not what Newman seemed to care about, is it?

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