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Paul Newman

September 27th, 2008 by Bill Corbett · 39 Comments



There will be countless tributes to Mr. Newman in the media over the next few weeks, and I’m sure they’ll cover his life well. I just wanted to say as someone who (believe it or not!) loves movies:

Paul Newman was an old-fashioned movie star in the best sense possible. He was already approaching middle age when I was a kid, but even then he was the gold standard for Handsome, Charismatic Guy onscreen. Still is, it seems.

But… the man was a great actor as well, with an extra talent for picking good movie roles. For those younger visitors here on the Rifftrax Blog who have only seen him in recent movies — or never — OR who only think of him as the salad dressing guy — do yourselves a favor sometime and watch “The Hustler,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Hud,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Sting” or “The Verdict” (a later Newman movie, but one of his best performances).


He was also a good family man, and a generous guy who did lots of unsung charity work… as well as the more visible, grocery-based stuff. I spent a semester as a guest professor at Kenyon College in Ohio, where Newman graduated from college after serving in WWII. I was surprised to learn that their great theater program there was due in no small part to Paul Newman’s generosity.

Newman also loved racing cars. And drinking beer, bless him.

It’s not a tragedy when an 83-year-old man dies, but it’s a mournful occasion for family, friends, and — where applicable — admirers. And it’s certainly an appropriate time to remember the life lived.

Mr. Newman, you lived a very good life. Thanks for everything, sir.

(…And yeah, I like the salad dressing too.)


ADDED Sunday 9/28: This quote from “Cool Hand Luke” is perfect for Mr. Newman. If you’ve never seen the movie, it’s basically a prison drama… but also it’s a great movie about non-conformity, the human spirit, and redemption. All that good stuff.

This line came from the movie’s screenwriters, Donn Pearce and Frank R. Pierson, and it’s spoken by his friend in prison after Luke’s death. Seems to capture Paul Newman’s life perfectly, right up until his final bout with cancer. It never really beat him:

    “He was smiling… That’s right. You know, that, that Luke smile of his. He had it on his face right to the very end. Hell, if they didn’t know it ‘fore, they could tell right then that they weren’t a-gonna beat him. That old Luke smile. Oh, Luke. He was some boy. Cool Hand Luke. Hell, he’s a natural-born world-shaker.”

Tags: RiffTrax

39 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Veronica on Sep 27, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    3 close friends of mine have passed away from leukemia and all 3 of them were under the age of 24.

    Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang did SO much to help them feel happy again before their conditions worsened.

    He and Joanne also donated a large sum of money to help rebuild a Connecticut playhouse I volunteered for when a fire damaged it.

    He is seriously one in a million.

  • 2 justhesh on Sep 27, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    He played as a badass, he lived as a badass, and he died having never not been a badass.

  • 3 Cole Stratton on Sep 27, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    I’m seriously bummed to see Newman pass–he’s one of my all time favorites, and one of the reasons I became an actor. His film catalog is amazing–in addition to his iconic roles in “Butch Cassidy”, “The Hustler” and “Cool Hand Luke,” he’s brilliant at Lew Harper (aka Lew Archer, the P.I. from Ross McDonald’s pulp novels) in “Harper” and it’s sequel, “The Drowning Pool.” He’s completely mesmerizing as boxer Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me;” he’s cocky and charismatic as Billy the Kid in “The Left Handed Gun;” and his portrayal of an alcoholic lawyer in Sidney Lumet’s “The Verdict” is one of the greatest redemptive character studies ever committed to film. In short, he was that rare combination of a great actor AND great human being.

  • 4 JoshWay on Sep 27, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Classic cool and a good man to boot. One of the greats of Hollywood and also Earth.

  • 5 Jeffrey Thames [King of Grief] on Sep 27, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Well played, Mr. Corbett. I can’t add anything to your commentary or mine.

  • 6 RemmieBarrow on Sep 27, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    I did not even know he was dead until I read this blog. Isn’t it always the way, you never find out of the death of someone you admire until later. The samething happened when Douglas Adams had died and I did not know of his death until months later.

  • 7 Charlie W on Sep 27, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    I wish Mr. Newman well in his next life. He will never be forgotten by his fans or those who he’s helped throughout the years.

  • 8 Ben on Sep 27, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Don’t forget “Slap Shot” and “The Hudsucker Proxy”. Newman was great at comedy as well as playing the rugged tough guy in movies.

  • 9 MSTJedi on Sep 27, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Wow . . . that sucks. After working at Central Market and Whole Foods, I’ve seen plenty of Newman’s products, but not so many of his films. It may tell how much of a dad I am by my first reaction to the news – what are they going to do with Cars 2? (Especially after I realized that George Carlin is no longer with us, either.)

  • 10 Katie M. on Sep 27, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Best ready-made Marinara sauce on the market. And that’s coming from a Sicilian!

    RIP, Mr. N.

  • 11 Brian O. on Sep 27, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Shakin’ the bushes in tribute, boss.

  • 12 norgavue on Sep 27, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Dam man… He will be missed.

  • 13 Mr. Slick on Sep 27, 2008 at 10:03 pm


  • 14 MST3Kelly on Sep 28, 2008 at 2:01 am

    fought in the Big One in the Pacific Theater. great actor- even stood up against the smoldering presence of the young Elizabeth Taylor, making you cross-eyed trying to watch both of these Hollywood demi-gods at the same time. incredibly handsome, and one of my first crushes. but not only was he a beautiful man and actor, he was a philanthropist with a great heart. and married to the same wonderful woman for 50 years. as he is quoted as saying ‘Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?’ ya gotta love that…
    they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. godspeed, and may the road rise to meet you.

  • 15 Dan Noutko-Kennedy on Sep 28, 2008 at 9:35 am

    Not only is CoolHand Luke a great prison film, with more than a passing resemblance to I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang with another Paul named Muni, it is also a great retelling of the story of Christ. It is filled with countless iconographic Christian images: Luke shown as if crucified after eating 50 eggs, the final helicopter shot of the 2 roads intersecting like a cross, etc. And the most emotionally devastating parallel for me is the moment after the warden has finally and mercilessly broken Luke down and he is ultimately forsaken by his once loyal disciples who one by one refuse to lift him by his upraised hand. An amazing performance by an amazing man whose real life as well did not just accidentally parallel the life of Christ.

  • 16 Conor Lastowka on Sep 28, 2008 at 9:39 am

    I still have a distinct memory of being on a beach vacation with my family during the summer, which used to be the only time I could stay up to watch the late night talk shows. When Letterman did his first show on CBS, some guy that I didn’t recognize and hadn’t heard of stood up, said “Where the hell are the singing cats?” and stormed out. My parents and I both thought it was funny, but they actually understood what had just happened. It’s still my favorite memory of Paul Newman.

  • 17 Kyle from Maine on Sep 28, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I want to do a marathon of his best movies, but that would take a couple of days. He had so many good ones. I did watch The Sting last night though. Absolutely amazing in the poker scene against Robert Shaw’s character.

  • 18 Natureboy (Ken) on Sep 28, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    A great tribute Bill, Paul Newman was a great actor, A class act and a neat person to boot. I never get sad when actors pass away, because that is just a part of life, but I was saddened at his passing. Thank you for putting into words what I was feeling about Mr. Newman’s death. He will be missed.

  • 19 Nanobots on Sep 28, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    Seeing that we’re all here (at Rifftrax) because we like to have fun with bad movies, it’s good to stop and honor someone who was really good at acting, and at picking movies that were worth acting in.

  • 20 Jen on Sep 29, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Despite being a big classic film fan, I didn’t catch on to Newman’s brilliance until late, and it was with an accidental viewing of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which isn’t even one of his best. (It’s good, it’s just that he did so much even better.) Those piercing blue eyes … I expected to hear this news ever since I heard about the cancer, but it’s still sad to see him go.

    Bill, I didn’t know before I read your post that he went to Kenyon. My in-laws live right by there in Mount Vernon.

  • 21 Nanobots on Sep 29, 2008 at 10:44 am

    “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is one of the first movies of his that I saw, or at least the first one where I actually noticed how good an actor he could be. I was young enough at the time that half the excitement was that this was a “racey” movie for me to see at whatever age I was, but I was quite absorbed by the story as I watched the movie. It helped that I was also a fan of Burl Ives, of course.

  • 22 Bill Corbett on Sep 29, 2008 at 5:29 pm


    Got to know Mt. Vernon well when I was at Kenyon. It was the Big City!


  • 23 Sian on Sep 30, 2008 at 9:11 am

    What gets me is that one of my co-workers had no idea that Paul Newman was an actor. She just thought he made food. And she’s my age, 23.

  • 24 Krud on Sep 30, 2008 at 9:13 am

    It takes an amazing talent to give enough personality to a aging, secretive squad car to make you care totally about it. (Doc in “Cars”. I know it’s not one of his big roles, but it’s the last movie I’d seen with him.) He didn’t even have to use his visual charm in that one.

    Rest in peace, Mr. Newman.

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