November 2008: What was Paul Newman's Legacy?
My husband Bill's "almost claim to fame" was nearly running down Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward several years ago as they crossed the street in front of a Westport, Connecticut post office.
Newman's reaction? A quick smile with his twinkling blue eyes and a thumbs up. In some ways that gesture seemed to capture the essence of Paul Newman from the vantage point of a long-admiring fan. Paul Newman, celebrity actor, philanthropist and American icon died September 26, 2008 after a long and private battle with cancer. Like millions of others I saw all of his films from 1962 on: HUD, The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, The Color of Money, Butch Cassidy, & The Sundance Kid, The Verdict, The Sting and The Road to Perdition. (Our daughter actually saw his last film, Cars, where he was the voice of a retired race car driver).
Newman and Woodward avoided the Hollywood glitz and lived simply in their farm house in Wesport, where they both generously shared their talent and time with the Westport Country Playhouse. Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Oscar winning actor said of Newman: "He's one of the those people who showed up to everything I did... you want to grow up and be like him, to take his example and learn from it."
As he aged he no longer was referred as "beautiful blue eyes" but he and the characters he portrayed on the screen seemed to be laughing with self-depricating humor at themselves and life itself, reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously.
There was a real sense of grace and dignity about him as he aged. He had done it all – award-winning actor, loyal husband of 50 years; father of five accomplished daughters and grieving father who lost a son to drug overdose; accomplished sports car driver (oldest driver to win a professional race) and co-founder, with A.E. Hotchner of a company (Newman's Own) which sells ordinary foods like salad dressing and marinara sauce in order to give millions away to charities, including his own Hole-In-The-Wall Gang charity for handicapped children.
For all his capabilities and accomplishments, Newman remained incredibly humble. As he reflected on his career and his life he observed, "I did the best with whatever equipment I had". From all I've read, Paul Newman was more than just "a pretty face" and although he probably didn't ponder his legacy he certainly seemed to abide by the mantra I use with my Goals for Life Program audiences, "Lead your life, don't just live it!"
"It's been a hell of a ride", he told his dear friend Hotchner the last time they saw each other. Wouldn't it be great to feel at the end of your life that you had nothing left to prove and to be comforted by sheer gratefulness for having lived such a fortunate life? And that you could be remembered for leaving this world with your thumbs up?!
"Lynda, thank you! Your words and actions have not only inspired me, but gave me the courage to actively pursue my “wild woman goals."