Paul Newman died last night at age 83 after a battle with long cancer. He leaves behind Joanne Woodward, his wife of five decades, which seems impossible in the Hollywood of today. He also leaves us behind the memory of a long career as a film star, philanthropist, and progressive activist.
I loved Paul Newman. He could play hero, anti-hero, and villain with an equal measure of irresistible charm, sometimes all in the same movie. From HUD, where he played a greedy, self-centered rancher, to The Hustler, where as Fast Eddy Felson he created a role so memorable he won an Oscar for the reprise twenty years later, and so many more, he performed with an intensity that went far beyond his piercing blue eyes, which a lesser actor could easily have coasted on for a decade or more.
Not only was he one of my favorite actors of all-time, he was a longtime progressive. As a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and supporter of Gene McCarthy, he was officially on Nixon’s enemies list. He’s spoken out against war, for gay rights, and he’s endowed an annual award to writers who use their writing to defend the First Amendment.
Newman built up a food empire with Newman’s Own that has given millions to charity, and recently he gave his shares in the company, valued at over $120 million, to charitable causes. He’s been a longtime supporter of progressive Democrats and progressive institutions like the Nation. And here he is 2006 at it again, aged 81, supporting Ned Lamont against Joe Lieberman.
It’s truly a sad day for all of us.