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Newman's rebelliousness was not that of youthful self-destruction. He turned out to be anti-establishment for the long haul.

Paul Newman, 1925-2008 

A hero we could believe in

click to enlarge Paul Newman visiting Carnation, Wash., in June 2007
  • Paul Newman visiting Carnation, Wash., in June 2007

Paul Newman made a lot of movies people love. Hud, The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are films that capitalized on Newman's cynical attitude, acting chops and earthy—yet unearthly—beauty.

He was an antihero for an iconoclastic age with a difference: He wasn't one of those hippie kids in Easy Rider or Woodstock or similar druggy cultural touchstones. Exactly the same age as my father, Newman's rebelliousness was not that of youthful self-destruction. He turned out to be anti-establishment for the long haul.

The Sting, Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy are superficially period pieces, but they are steeped in the what-the-hell ethos of the 1960s. Doing what was right (even if you were a con man or a bandit) devilishly reflected an era, as well as a mellowing of Hud and The Hustler's Fast Eddie, whose moral ambiguity had a harder edge.

Newman was a genuine movie star, groomed with the last generation of studio contract players in the 1950s. Unlike so many others, he eschewed tabloid notoriety for a devoted marriage of 50 years to a fellow player with whom he shared a house in Connecticut far from the madding Hollywood crowds.

Although his Newman's Own line of food products is well known, it's still astonishing to realize his lemonades, pasta sauces and salad dressings allowed him to donate $250 million dollars to the charitable causes close to his heart. On screen, he played Robin Hoods for the peace-and-love generation, but Newman the man walked the walk.

Newman wasn't just the same age as my parents; he also attended Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland, Ohio, with them. My mother remembers Newman playing Hamlet in school, his handsomeness overwhelming any other memories of the play.

Newman's life, as actor, private individual and philanthropist, a rebel with a cause, seems exemplary. We ask no more of our screen heroes, our father figures and fantasy boyfriends, and usually we get a lot less.

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