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A Tribute to the Creative Life of Paul Newman

He left fine creative work as an actor and warmth of personal character.

By Barbara Bowen | Updated June 15, 2018

September 2008 brought a sad, sweet farewell to Paul Newman, who died of cancer at the age of 83. Amidst the media gloom and campaign rancor of the season, a glance at his life makes for refreshing fare.

What film lover could forget Newman's understated blue-eyed "Cool Hand Luke," his tortured soul as Brick in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," his romantic charm as Butch Cassidy. Over the years, his characters helped us to articulate the spirit of our times. He became like a friend, journeying alongside us through the decades. His colleagues have long commented on his lack of outsized ego, his generosity on stage, and his abiding Ohio-born, down-to-earth perspective.

But he left not only fine creative work as an actor, or warmth of personal character. He left us an example, by his later work in philanthropy.

It all started the Christmas of 1980, when he and his Westport neighbor, A.E. Hotchner, filled old wine bottles with Paul's homemade salad dressing as gifts to friends. They wound up lining the shelves of a local gourmet shop, as a joke. But sobriety arrived when the dressing sold out, detailed in a book the two penned years later — "Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good." In a nutshell, by 2008, Newman's Own Foundation had donated more than 250 million dollars to charities around the world. His Hole in the Wall Camps bring, at no charge, joyful experiences to seriously ill children. He also helped found the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

Strange how we can grow to love a public figure whom we've never met. His passing, for many Americans, feels akin to losing a family member. One whose roles are still very much alive: loving family man and friend, gifted actor, progressive activist, and philanthropist with a sense of humor. To sum it up, a humanitarian we will never forget.

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©2008 Barbara Bowen. All rights reserved.