Oscar-winning actor Paul Newman, who also made his mark as a movie director, philanthropist and auto racer, has died at the age of 83 following a long battle with cancer. A spokesman said Newman died late Friday, surrounded by family and friends at his country farmhouse near Westport, Connecticut. VOA's Kyle King has more on the actor's long and unusual career.
Paul Newman was one of America's most distinguished actors, but he refused to play the publicity-seeking Hollywood star. Although he appeared in more than 50 movies, the Oscar-winning actor preferred to live in the quiet New England town of Westport, Connecticut, happily exiled from celebrity with his wife, actress Joanne Woodward.
Paul Newman grew up in a comfortable suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from Kenyon College in Ohio, he spent two years acting in local productions. He returned to Cleveland to run the family business after his father's death. But 18 months later, he enrolled in Yale's Drama School. As he put it, "I wasn't driven to acting by any inner compulsion. I was running away from the sporting goods business."
In 1953, he opened on Broadway in Picnic. Critics loved it.
During the play's run, he landed a film contract with Warner Brothers Studios and met Picnic understudy, Joanne Woodward. In 1954, after divorcing his first wife, he married Woodward, and over the years, had six children.
1954 was also the year that Newman made his film debut in The Silver Chalice, a biblical epic that his family describes as "the worst picture ever made."
But Newman's luck changed, and between 1958 and 1967, he starred in four classic American movies, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hud, and Cool Hand Luke. He also starred in the hit films Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.
In more than six decades of acting, he earned nine Oscar nominations and was given the Best Actor honor for his role in the 1986 film The Color of Money.
With his wry sense of humor, he told a television interviewer that winning an Oscar at the age of 62 deprived him of his fantasy of being formally presented with it in extreme old age.
"It was nice, but it did destroy an image, that I had, that had always been floating around in my head, where the auditorium goes berserk [frenzied, wild], my name is mentioned, a stretcher is brought up on the stage, with this grungy, knotted, gnarled hand that comes out from underneath the sheet, grabs hold of this thing [the Oscar], and pulls it back underneath the sheet," he said. "And then, they take the stretcher out, see. So, they have deprived me of that particular dream, and I don't know whether I am happy with that."
Newman made films into the 1990s, including Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Hudsucker Proxy and Message in a Bottle. After completing this last film, he told an interviewer that he might consider making one more movie before retiring from acting.
"Listen, I've been at it [acting] long enough," said Newman. "I'd just like to try to do other things. Examine certain aspects of the spiritual world. I don't mean God. [I mean] The world of the spirit. What is that great line? The last thing that a man wants to do is the last thing he does. Get ready for that."
His passion for car racing led to a successful side career as a driver, and in 1975 he finished second in the 24-hour competition at Le Mans. In 1990, at the age of 70, he finished second at the 24-hour Daytona race, became the oldest driver on a winning team.
Newman was also recognized for his work behind the camera, earning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination as best director for Rachel, Rachel which starred his wife.
After spending nearly half a century in the movie business, Paul Newman confessed that he believed the industry had changed in ways with which he wasn't particularly happy.
"When I started films it was very much like when I started [auto] racing: there was a great sense of camaraderie," he said. "And, yeah, things were important but the friendship and the fun of it and the larceny of it was somehow terribly important. And now I get the sense that people are shooting schedules and budgets and release dates and the fourth and last thing that they're shooting is the picture. That's disturbing. And I wonder whether films really aspire to examine the human condition very much anymore."
Besides his movie and racing careers, Newman also started a brand of foodstuffs called "Newman's Own", salad dressing, popcorn and spaghetti sauce. He used the profits from his products to fund a number of charities that he founded over the years.
One of them, the Scott Newman Foundation, was founded to honor the memory of one of his children, who died at the age of 28 of an overdose of painkillers and alcohol.
Actor, director and philanthroist Paul Newman, dead at the age of 83.