September 26, 2009

In memoriam: Paul Newman

It was a year ago today that Paul Newman died. I couldn't write about it at the time, my emotions were too strong and I couldn't sort through my feelings.

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.


Laura said...

Hi Angela, lovely post.

I totally understand your reaction to Paul Newman dying, sometimes, even though it is slighty embarrasing, the death of a 'celebrity' touches us. When Luther Vandross died, I felt like I'd lost a friend!

I too struggle to think of anyone these days who can hold a candle to Paul Newman, or to Luther for that matter :-)

Non Consumer Girl said...

It is refreshing to recognise celebrities who are positive role models and a true inspiration.
Non Consumer Girl

Anonymous said...

Beautifully put. I rarely listen to the news, and when my sister rang to tell me Paul Newman had died, I just burst into tears. He was truly a wonderful man!

Angela said...

Laura- Thanks, and thanks for sharing.

Non Consumer Girl- Yes, especially compared to some of the terrible role models out there.

Loretta- After I'd heard the news, when my husband saw my face he thought a family member had died.

Kate Sommers said...

I agree with you that he was the most handsome man that ever lived...your dad comes in a good second!

Angela said...

Kate- Ha! That's hilarious, I can't wait to tell my dad. He's still pretty handsome for a 73-year-old dude. Come to think of it, he's a bit "Paul Newmanesque," isn't he? Thanks for commenting!

Sue said...

Lovely piece, Angela. I rarely take the time to visit blogs, but when this appeared on my Google Alert, I thought I'd check it out. Glad I did. I had the great good fortune to spend a little over a week on the set of Sometimes A Great Notion. On a film that was beset with problems and a location that had been closed to everyone, Paul and his partner John Foreman agreed to allow me to do research about filming on location. I was not a famous writer. They didn't have to give me the time of day. He could have just said, "Watch and learn." But Paul gave me access to his crew, his cast and checked with me every day to see if I was getting what I needed. "Watching a movie being filmed is a frigging bore," he said. "Spend some time with Bob Wyman our editor. He's been in the business forever." When they spent a whole day filming the motorcycle race (all but 30 seconds ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor), he asked the stunt coordinator to explain what they were doing. Paul was enormously kind to me, funny even under so much stress, and when I felt comfortable enough with him and the crew to give him a bad time about keeping the Coors in his trailer, and making the crew drink Bud, he grinned and said, "You like Coors?" "When I can get it," I told him. It was not available in Oregon at the time. He disappeared for awhile and I continued visiting with the crew. Pretty soon he appeared beside me and slipped a cold can in my hand as he walked by. I looked down and sure enough, it was a Coors.

Angela said...

Sue- Thank you SO much for sharing that lovely story. It's somehow always so nice to hear from a "real" person that your hero lives up to your image of them, or the one that's been created by PR. Having worked in film editing for 15 years, I'm also of the opinion that the movie gets made in the editing, and that the editing room is actually the most exciting place to be. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

WilliamB said...

You're about the third person of my acquaintance who's observed that Newman's death was like losing a family member. What's striking is that all three are from different social groups.

He was a good man. We need more of those.

Lomagirl said...

What a great description of why we mourn the loss of some famous people so personally. When Mother Theresa died I mourned that I would now never have the chance to meet her.
And I love Paul Newman for just the reasons you've given here.

Angela said...

WilliamB- Here, here (we need more good men, especially of the role model sort, to counteract the Michael Vicks)

Lomagirl- Thanks for the compliment, and thanks so much for reading and taking the time to make a comment. I remember that when Mother Theresa died, it was a bit overshadowed by Princess Diana. I thought that was a shame.