This reaction to a celebrity death is vaguely embarrassing to me, but I think most of us have experienced it. What does it mean when we feel the loss of someone we don't even know so personally? I'd never met Paul Newman, so I was essentially grieving for a stranger. But really I was mourning the loss of the person I thought he was, and what he represented to me.
Which was a beautiful human being. There are rumours that he wasn't perfect, but I refuse to believe them. In his case, his outward good looks were a reflection of his soul. He was, in my opinion, the most handsome man who ever lived. Does that sound overblown? His face and physique were perfect. And it wasn't just the famous blue eyes. Even in a black and white film like Hud, the man was drop-dead gorgeous. I fell in love with his looks and charm as a child, while watching him and the Sundance Kid jump off cliffs and blast their way through Mexico. Who could resist the mischievous smile and sparkling eyes of Butch, or Cool Hand Luke, or the con artist from The Sting? No actor of my generation could begin to take his place. Brad Pitt? No way. Tom Cruise? Give me a break. George Clooney? Well, he comes closest, but he's still not PN.
Mr. Newman was known as a major philanthropist and 100% of the proceeds from his "Newman's Own" line are donated to charity. The list of causes to which he contributed his time and money would be longer than this post. He was a friend to animals and a champion of the downtrodden, a hero in my eyes. His life as a humanitarian was deeply inspiring; he was a person who truly lived his values.
And there was his relationship with his wife, Joanne Woodward. Hardly a typical Hollywood couple, they were together for 50 years and shunned the celebrity lifestyle. How about the charm of a man who says of his wife, when asked about the temptations of other women, "Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?" I'm sure Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward weren't non-consumers, but they may have started me on my journey during an interview I watched decades ago. When asked about the amount of money they give to charity, Ms. Woodward said that at some point you have enough, and you just don't need another set of bath towels, or something to that effect. I think the sentiment made a lasting impression on me.
So I will continue to miss the man who has represented so many things to me: beauty, charm, class, grace, talent, humility, character, loyalty, generosity, integrity, strength, courage, and dedication. I'll miss the perfect man I never met. But I'll always have his movies.