Paul Newman: What he meant to me

By Rick Tetzeli

Paulnewman_l_2Over the years, Paul Newman represented many things to many people. We now think of this mostly in terms of his latter years, when, between his charitable foundation, his carefully chosen roles, and his clearly articulated political views, he came to represent a kind of “Old Man in the Mountain” New England archetype: flinty, intelligent, generous, outspoken, singular.

But for my mother (who would have been 71 this fall) — and many others, obviously — Newman was one of those rare actors who elicited a deeply personal reaction over many years. Thanks to her, there was really only one movie star whose name I knew from the beginning: Paul Newman. (Actually there were two: My father, who liked to pretend he was a tough guy, preferred Frank Sinatra. But my mother said there was no contest in the Battle of the Blue Eyes.)

My mother swooned over the young Newman. As a result, my introduction to movies featured not just the standards — Bambi, The Sound of Music — but also a basic training in Newman. I was 8 when I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid three times at the local theater. By the time I was 10 years old, I had seen Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Hustler, Hud, Harper, Butch Cassidy, and Cool Hand Luke. Mom just couldn’t stop talking about Newman’s great looks, how suave he was, what great shape he was in, and so on. It was all a little much for an 8-year-old to listen to, but I realized later that the early Newman represented a lot of what she yearned for in her life. He had a vitality that she missed from her life as a somewhat-frustrated housewife. And he had an energy and a sense of possibility that she sensed was missing from my father.

By the time I’d left for college — the time of Fort Apache, the Bronx and later The Verdict — my parents had settled into a routine suburban marriage. Some ups, many downs. I remember talking to my mom about Newman then. She still spoke fondly of his bygone hotness — she was downright playful recalling the way he looked in The Long, Hot Summer — but she loved the new Newman, too. She loved his resolve, his determination to find a way through crap to do the right thing. That was what she felt she was trying to do in her life. And when that resolve went public with his foundation, well, obviously our house was the one always stocked with Newman’s Own lemonade.

What did Newman mean to you, EW readers? What roles of his did you love best? There aren’t many left like Paul Newman, so please fire away with your tributes to the man.

PLEASE NOTE: We may be interested in running reader comments in the magazine, along with our obituary tribute, which goes to press Tuesday night. So if you’re okay with EW printing your tribute, please write “OK FOR PRINT” at the end of your comment. Many thanks.

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Comments (259 total) Add your comment
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  • Ralph

    He was a great actor and will be sorely missed.

  • ShawnF.

    A major loss. Thank you, Paul, and God’s speed.

  • KateDFW

    God Bless Paul Newman and his family. May he RIP. Thank you for so many wonderful memories. He was truly a one of a kind man who will be sorely missed.

  • deanne mencher

    Paul Newman exuded warmth and
    a humanity that few other actors
    can match. A very special man.

  • Jane

    I’m so sad to hear this. He was a great talent, a major part of what I associated with great movies and entertainment since I was a child. We will miss you, Paul.

  • Al Fredo

    So few icons remain. And so passes another of the heavyweights. Truly classy, and socially responsible.

  • Linda Mendez

    Paul Newman was as handsome as he was thoughtful & real. He will be surely missed. His charities will live on to honor him & my prayers are with his family.

  • Britani Black

    He was incredible! One of the greatest actors of any generation. He will be missed.

  • Rahul

    Oh man, this is sad news. ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’ is one of my absolute favorite movies. I hope we all go back and appreciate all the great work he did for us, his loyal audience.

  • James

    Great actor and even a greater man. RIP, Paul.

  • Anna

    Rest in peace, Paul. You will be missed.



  • sam

    It seems like I have loved him all of my life. What a wonderful man. My sympathy to his lovely wife and his children. His charity work will be carried on and his fantastic performances will live on forever, but we will miss him. He was brilliant, funny, generous and he leaves a legacy far beyond his acting. Heaven is a more beautiful place today.

  • Stan

    A passing of one of the last great originals. A sad day…

  • Ron Houghton

    I can’t think of a role Paul simply wasn’t great in, sure like all performers he might have been in some mediocre films, but he was always brought his magic touch. His legacy as a actor in film history will be permanent, but his acheivement as a human being is greater still. The warmth and generosity of Mr. Newman is a beacon to the best in all of us. My deepest sympathy to Joanne and his family.
    PS-EW- It would be shameful if he fails to make the cover.

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