Paul Newman, 83, the Hollywood icon with the famous blue eyes and killer grin who seduced audiences with six decades worth of rebels, rascals and moody romancers, died yesterday after a battle with cancer.
He died in the farmhouse in Westport, Conn., where he lived with his wife Joanne Woodward, his costar in life and in 10 of his movies at his side, along with other family members.
Mr. Newman, who also pursued politics and race cars and his philanthropic foodstuffs company with a passion, was an actor who radiated such easygoing, wily charm that it was virtually impossible to dislike the characters he played, even when they were selfish heels, shallow pretty boys, con men or drunks - and they often were.
With a cool swagger and winkingly sardonic allure, Mr. Newman made an indelible impression on audiences in the 1950s and '60s, offering an assortment of iconic figures: Fast Eddie Felson, the pool shark of The Hustler; Chance Wayne, the self-deluded gigolo of Sweet Bird of Youth; Hud Bannon, the crude Texas cowpoke of Hud; Luke Jackson, the defiant chain-ganger of Cool Hand Luke, and Butch Cassidy, one of the rascally train-robbers - Robert Redford being the other - in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Of the generation of Marlon Brando and James Dean - and lumped in with them early on by the press and public - Mr. Newman was Method-trained and Broadway-schooled, moving from episodic television in the early 1950s to Hollywood, where his preternatural good looks and devilish smile won him a Warner Bros. contract and near-instant stardom.
He was nominated for 10 Academy Awards over the decades, winning once, in 1987, for The Color of Money, in which he revisited the role of Fast Eddie, the pool ace he had played 25 years earlier in The Hustler. Like Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Newman was - and is - a Hollywood immortal.
And like them, Newman never entirely shrugged off his own persona in the roles he played. He generated sexual heat, he brooded and beamed, he surprised with his dry humor and was, very often, riveting. But you never forgot that you were watching Newman. As the trailers to his early, essential movies said: Paul Newman is Hud, Paul Newman is Harper.
Jokingly exploiting his name and celebrity, Mr. Newman became a significant player in the world of philanthropy. In 1982, he launched Newman's Own, with the proceeds from its salsas and salad dressings, popcorn and pasta sauces generating more than $200 million for charity.
He and Woodward established the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps for terminally ill children, and, after the death of his son, Scott, from a drug and alcohol overdose in 1978, Mr. Newman founded a drug rehabilitation facility in his son's name in Los Angeles.
"Paul is vulnerable to the needs of people," his friend and Newman's Own business partner, the writer A.E. Hotchner, told Newsweek in 1995. "He's vulnerable to his own vulnerability. I think that recognition of vulnerability in a role, or in life, is what's given him his drive. It's the essential thing of his personality."
Private and publicity-shy, Mr. Newman was nonetheless active in politics and social causes. An early critic of the Vietnam War, Mr. Newman was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago (supporting Eugene McCarthy); campaigned in 1972 for George McGovern for president; and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as his delegate to nuclear disarmament talks at the United Nations. In 1995, Mr. Newman bought a controlling interest in the liberal political journal The Nation, and occasionally contributed to its pages.
After starring in 1969's Indy 500 race-car picture Winning, Mr. Newman pursued the sport with obsessive zeal. He won his first national amateur championship in 1976, and in 1979, at age 54, finished second in the Le Mans 24-hour road race. In the '70s and '80s, he scheduled his movie jobs around his race calendar. He co-owned the Newman-Haas Indy Car team.
Mr. Newman's roster of artistic and commercial successes includes Tennessee Williams (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth), a clutch of famous "H" movies (Harper, Hombre, Hud, The Hustler), two snappy team-ups with Redford (Butch Cassidy, The Sting) and some mid- and late-life gems (The Verdict, Nobody's Fool).
Mr. Newman received the first of his nine Oscar nominations for acting in 1959, for his booze-soaked ex-jock Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His others were for The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Absence of Malice (1981), The Verdict (1982), The Color of Money (1986), Nobody's Fool (1994), and Road to Perdition (2002). He also was nominated as producer of Rachel, Rachel, the 1968 drama starring Woodward. It was the first of five films he would direct.
Paul Leonard Newman was born on Jan. 26, 1925, in Cleveland, the second son of Arthur and Theresa Newman. Paul and his year-older brother, Arthur Jr., grew up in an 11-room house in the leafy suburb of Shaker Heights.
Mr. Newman was a small kid who went through the Shaker Heights schools without much sign of seriousness or intellect. He liked sports, and caught the acting bug early, making his stage debut at age 10, in St. George and the Dragon. He was St. George.
In 1943, after a brief stint at Ohio University in Athens - plenty of beer and bar fights - he joined the Navy, intent on becoming a pilot. But his partial color blindness (he couldn't distinguish red from green) nixed that. Instead, he became a radioman on bombers in the Pacific, seeing next to no combat.
After the war, in 1946, he enrolled at Kenyon College on the GI Bill, majoring in literature and theater. Mr. Newman graduated in 1949 and joined a summer stock company in Wisconsin (the Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie was one of his first Williams roles), then a season with the Woodstock Players repertory near Chicago. He met and married Jacqueline Witte, a fellow Woodstock Player, and in 1950 they had a son, Scott. That same year, Arthur Newman died.
In 1982, Mr. Newman told Time magazine that losing his father before he could see his son's success had always hurt. "I think he always thought of me as pretty much a lightweight. He treated me like he was disappointed in me a lot of the time, and he had every right to be. It was one of the great agonies of my life that he could never know. . . . I desperately wanted to show him that somehow, somewhere along the line I could cut the mustard. And I never got a chance, never got a chance."
Mr. Newman surely drew from that hurt in the many films he made dealing with the fractures between fathers and sons, from The Long, Hot Summer all the way to Road to Perdition.
After his father's death, Mr. Newman returned to Shaker Heights to run the family sporting-goods business. But he was restless, sold the business, and entered Yale's drama program in 1951, bringing his wife and baby boy to New Haven.
By the next summer he was auditioning in New York. Among his early TV jobs was CBS's You Are There, which offered reenactments of famous scenes through the ages. Mr. Newman appeared as Aristotle, Julius Caesar, and the Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale.
The proverbial big break came in 1953, when Mr. Newman, about to become the father of a second child - a daughter, Susan - won the role of little rich guy Alan Seymour in the Broadway production of William Inge's Picnic. Mr. Newman was also understudy for the play's lead. Woodward was an understudy in the same play.
Mr. Newman went on to appear in the original Broadway productions of The Desperate Hours and Sweet Bird of Youth, and honed his craft at Lee Strasberg's influential Actors Studio, home of the Method technique. There Mr. Newman met and worked with directors Elia Kazan (on stage) and Martin Ritt (in six films). In addition to Brando and Dean, Strasberg's students included Julie Harris, Kim Stanley, Eli Wallach and Woodward, too.
Strasberg famously observed that Mr. Newman would have been as great an actor as Brando if it weren't for that daunting handsomeness. Mr. Newman had the chops, Strasberg suggested, but also the tendency to coast on his looks.
But Mr. Newman had keen instincts. His filmography boasts fewer misfires and bombs than many of his contemporaries, although he launched his career with a doozy: 1954's The Silver Chalice, in which the actor starred as Basil, a Greek slave-turned-artisan with chiseled features - no stretch for a guy whose profile would look right at home on an ancient coin.
A quasi-biblical epic of amusing awfulness - Mr. Newman later apologized for it, taking out ads in the Hollywood trades and dubbing it "the worst film of the fifties" - The Silver Chalice nonetheless gave the young star instant heartthrob status.
He followed it up in 1956 with Somebody Up There Likes Me, a biopic of the New York pugilist Rocky Graziano. Mr. Newman inherited the role following the death of the intended lead, James Dean. Mr. Newman's second movie fared much better, highlighting his physicality and giving him the opportunity to get his mouth around some sinewy tough-guy jabber.
Mr. Newman and Woodward first appeared on screen together in 1958's The Long, Hot Summer, Ritt's blazing adaptation of a William Faulkner novel. Mr. Newman is Ben Quick, a Mississippi drifter who goes to work for a wealthy landowner (Orson Welles) who favors his new hire more than his own son. Woodward, as Welles' daughter, resists her father's efforts to fix her up with the hotheaded newcomer, but the sparks fly.
A few years earlier, Mr. Newman and wife Jackie had had a third child, daughter Stephanie. But by 1958 the relationship was over, and Mr. Newman married Woodward, already an Oscar-winner for The Three Faces of Eve. The couple celebrated their 50th anniversary in January.
In a 1993 interview with biographer Eric Lax, Mr. Newman said about Woodward: "It was a kind of fortuitous coming together, because she had an ameliorating effect on my excesses, which were excessive enough but at least there was a partial lid put on them. And the things that set her on fire were the kinds of fires I could quell somehow. Mine were drinking, behaving badly, living too close to the edge. Why did I do that? I think it probably took a lot of pressure off in general. A safety valve."
In 1959, Otto Preminger cast Mr. Newman as Israeli independence fighter Ari Ben Canaan in Exodus. Complaints that the blue-eyed star was all wrong to play the Jewish rebel were quashed when it was noted that Mr. Newman's father was, in fact, Jewish. (Arthur Newman was of German descent; his wife, Theresa, was Catholic and of Hungarian background.)
The 1960s saw Mr. Newman's star rise higher, with The Hustler; Hud; Torn Curtain, a Cold War thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock; Harper, in which Mr. Newman played Ross Macdonald's name-changed private eye, Lew Archer; Hombre, a western in which Newman was a half-Apache cowboy; and then the mega-hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
How mega? Adjusted for inflation, the 1969 movie's box office gross would be $485 million - right under Ghostbusters and above Love Story.
In the 1970s, Newman directed and starred in Sometimes a Great Notion, an adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel about a clan of Oregon loggers. Newman took the title role in John Huston's jolly western romp The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and worked again with Huston on The Mackintosh Man.
That same year, 1973, saw the release of The Sting, a 1930s con-men buddy picture that reteamed Newman and Redford and became one of the top-grossing movies ever - at an inflation-adjusted $613 million, it ranks 15th. The Sting took home seven Academy Awards, including best picture, and popularized the ragtime music of Scott Joplin, becoming a pop-cult phenomenon.
The next year saw another blockbuster: The Towering Inferno, the Irwin Allen disaster pic featuring a bunch of movie stars trapped in a burning skyscraper. In the latter part of the '70s, the actor teamed with director Robert Altman for Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (with Mr. Newman, in long silvery locks, as the Old West showman) and Quintet.
Mr. Newman was looser and goosier in the role of Reggie Dunlop, a washed-up minor-league hockey player, in the foul-mouthed, puck-stops-here character piece Slap Shot. The actor counted the 1977 film among his favorites.
In the 1980s, Mr. Newman began to work less and drive more, seriously pursuing racing. (Woodward, once asked about her husband's obsession, cracked, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste on a Trans Am motor.")
As he moved through middle age, Mr. Newman shrugged off some of the acting tricks and signature tics, like the hand-pinch to the bridge of his nose, of his younger days. Among the characters Mr. Newman made his own: the upstanding NYPD cop of Fort Apache the Bronx; a smeared businessman looking for vengeance in Absence of Malice; and the alcoholic ambulance-chaser seeking redemption in The Verdict.
The role that finally brought Mr. Newman his Oscar came in 1986, in The Color of Money. Pauline Kael, in her New Yorker review of Martin Scorsese's hit, wrote: "Newman is like a great veteran tap dancer showing you how easy it all becomes, and the kick he gets out of acting is inseparable from Eddie's con artistry."
Mr. Newman appeared even less on-screen during the '90s. With Woodward, he took on James Ivory's Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, the married couple portraying a married couple of the 1930s and 1940s. The Coen brothers put Mr. Newman up to impersonating a cigar-chompin' business tycoon in their screwball throwback The Hudsucker Proxy.
Nobody's Fool, directed by Robert Benton, seemed to be made for Mr. Newman: a crabby, small-town construction guy looking for his spot at the bar, underestimating his own worth, and leaving people charmed and chagrined in his wake.
In an interview with Roger Ebert, Mr. Newman acknowledged the role's autobiographical resonance.
"Not so much in specific events," he explained, "as in the trajectory of the character. He was aloof and distant and mistook that for independence. He became . . . available. He wasn't so stuck in cement that he couldn't be alert to the potential that exists in change. That's the real miracle of that character; some primordial instinct in him that says, when his son and grandson appear, 'Hold it, this could be worth something.' That's the part of that character that touched me."
Over the last several years, Mr. Newman lent his raspy voice to the Disney animated hit Cars, performed on Broadway in Our Town, and appeared in the TV mini-series Empire Falls, for which he won an Emmy. But for all intents and purposes, Mr. Newman's screen career came to a close in 2002 with Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition, and it's a capper. Mr. Newman, then 77, is flinty, quaking and absolutely riveting as a weary gangster torn up about the conflicted legacy he's leaving behind.
In May 2007, Newman announced his retirement from acting on ABC's Good Morning America.
"I'm not able to work anymore as an actor at the level I would want to," he said. "You start to lose your memory, your confidence, your invention. So that's pretty much a closed book for me."
But what a book it is.
Newman is survived by his Woodward, five children, two grandsons and his older brother Arthur.