12 Years After Paul Newman’s Death, These Little-Known Facts Show The Legend In A New Light

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Paul Newman has often been hailed as one of the sexiest actors of all time. However, there’s much more to the Hollywood hunk than his brooding good looks. So 12 years after the actor passed away, we take a look at some of the lesser-known aspects of the Cool Hand Luke star’s life.

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40. Newman had Jewish and Slovakian parentage

Newman entered the world on January 26, 1925 and was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to mother Theresa Garth and father Sigmund Newman Sr. Now, Garth was a Slovak Roman Catholic from present-day Slovakia, while Newman’s father was Jewish, the son of Polish and Hungarian immigrants. That’s quite a diverse mix at that time.

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39. His family owned a sports store

Yes, Newman’s father ran a successful sports’ goods store called Newman-Stern. When she was not taking care of Paul and his older brother Arthur, their mother helped out too. Furthermore, before he became a movie star, Newman put in shifts at the family business, taking over as manager upon the death of his father in 1950.

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38. The star may have got his love of performing from mom

It seems that Newman’s mother may have been instrumental in him pursuing a career in acting. You see, she was a huge fan of the theatre and encouraged her youngest son’s creative talents. Meanwhile, Newman’s father was more sporty and therefore took a liking to his older boy, Arthur, who was athletic.

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37. Newman’s first taste of the spotlight


The Hustler star first showed an interest in acting from an early age. In fact, his first taste of the spotlight came when he was still a kid at school. Aged seven, Newman played the role of a court jester in Robin Hood. This character might have suited the youngster down to a T, given that he had a reputation as the class joker.

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36. Acting was not his first choice of career

While the actor had a passion for performance, it was not his main interest growing up. Rather than dreaming of becoming a Hollywood star, Newman hoped to one day become a professional athlete. Yes, he played football in high school and even pursued the sport at college. But fate intervened, forcing Newman to take a different direction.

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35. Newman’s mother was a Christian Scientist


Although Newman’s mother was born into a Roman Catholic family, she later converted to Christian Science. However, she didn’t force her beliefs on her family, and Newman was not religious in later life himself. When prompted though, the actor described himself as a Jew, saying he identified this way as he “considered it more challenging.”

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34. He was expelled from college

Newman attended Ohio University in Athens after graduating from Shaker Heights High School in 1943. However, his time as a student there was short-lived after he was expelled. Now, it’s not clear what happened exactly, but Newman was apparently involved in some kind of incident with a beer keg and a rector’s car. In any case, it sounded like childish fun.

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33. Newman hoped to become a pilot


Interestingly, Newman served in the navy during World War II and had initially hoped to become a pilot. What’s more, he undertook training at Yale University but was dropped from the program after it was discovered that he was colorblind. As such, he was deemed unfit to fly planes, effectively ending his pilot aspirations.

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32. He became a radio operator and gunner instead

Despite the pilot setback, Newman still served in World War II. Yes, he became a radio operator and a rear gunner, based out of Barbers Point, Hawaii. In fact, in 1945 the star had a near miss when his plane was grounded due to pilot illness. While his party stayed behind, the rest of the squadron flew out before falling victim to a deadly kamikaze attack.

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31. Newman got an athletics scholarship after the war


Newman took a step towards his dream of becoming a professional sportsman when he won an athletic scholarship at Ohio’s Kenyon College after the war in 1946. However, in 1998 he explained to Interview magazine, “I got thrown in jail and kicked off the football team. Since I was determined not to study very much, I majored in theater the last two years.”

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30. He wanted to teach drama before being spotted

With Newman’s dreams of being an athlete shattered, he pursued an acting career instead. As a result, he spent a year studying at the Yale School of Drama with the hope of going into teaching. However, during his time there, Newman was spotted by talent agents from New York and subsequently moved to the Big Apple.

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29. He was reluctant to move to Hollywood


In New York, Newman studied at the prestigious Actors Studio for the stage. At the time, he lived in Staten Island with his first wife, Jackie Witte, and he appeared pretty settled. But Newman was reportedly unsure about moving to California. You see, Oscar Levant wrote in his 1969 biography The Unimportance of Being Oscar that Newman had said Hollywood was, “Too close to the cake. Also, no place to study.”

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28. His Hollywood debut didn’t go to plan

The Hud star eventually relented and moved to Hollywood, making his debut in the 1954 movie The Silver Chalice. For his part, Newman had to wear a toga, something he would never live down. In fact, the actor later made ads urging fans not to watch the film.

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27. He auditioned for East of Eden


Newman shot a screen test for the film which would become East of Eden in the 1950s. However, he ultimately lost out to James Dean, who was six years his junior. Sadly, Dean died in an infamous car crash before the movie was released. As a result, Newman was cast in two parts originally intended for Dean – in Somebody Up There Likes Me and The Left Handed Gun.

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26. Woodward was not impressed by Newman’s good looks

Newman first met his future wife, actress Joanne Woodward, in 1953, but she wasn’t impressed by his famous good looks. She later told Today that Newman looked “like an ice cream soda ad” but her initial thoughts were “that’s disgusting.” For Woodward, Newman was “just a pretty face.”

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25. Newman felt guilty about leaving his first wife


It wasn’t until Newman and Woodward reunited in 1957 that romance started to blossom. At the time Newman was divorcing from his first wife, and according to Shawn Levy’s 2009 book Paul Newman: A Life he felt “guilty as hell” about leaving Witte. He’s quoted as saying “I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my life.”

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24. His son followed in his father’s footsteps

Newman had three children with Witte, including a son called Scott. And in the 1970s he embarked on an acting career appearing in movies such as The Towering Inferno and Fraternity Row. However, Scott died of a drug overdose in 1978, leading Newman to establish the Scott Newman Center to prevent drug abuse.

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23. Newman’s films went down in history


Six of Newman’s movies are considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and are now part of the National Film Registry. They are Hud, Cool Hand Luke, King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis, The Hustler, The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

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22. He received critical acclaim on his directorial debut

In 1968 Newman directed his first movie, Rachel, Rachel. The film starred his wife Woodward as an older school teacher looking for love. And the drama proved a hit with critics, bagging four Academy Award nominations, including one in the prestigious best picture category.

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21. The actor loved automobile racing


Newman discovered a love of car racing on the set of the 1969 film Winning. Indeed, he went on to win a number of championships in the Sports Car Club of America, competing into his 80s. He would later claim that he was happiest when at the wheel of his car.

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20. Newman’s partnership with Redford was worth millions

Newman appeared alongside Robert Redford in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and their partnership proved incredibly successful. You see, the movie earned $46 million domestically. And when Newman and Redford reunited for The Sting in 1973 the film was another box office hit.

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19. He was nominated for an Oscar in five different decades


Newman received Academy Award nominations in five different decades and is just one of four actors to achieve this. The others are Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. In fact, he had to wait until 1985 for his first Oscar, which was an honorary one. But he won his second in 1986 for The Color of Money and took home an honorary third in 1994 for charity work.

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18. Newman was one of the first stars to raise a family outside of California

Yes, Newman may have been a big star in Hollywood, but he preferred to keep his family life out of the limelight. With that in mind, he and Woodward raised their three daughters, Elinor, Melissa and Claire, in an 18th-century farmhouse in Westport, Connecticut.

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17. Newman was modest about his 50-year marriage to Woodward


Now, Newman and Woodward were married for 50 years, from 1958 until the actor’s death in 2008. However, while such a long union is practically unheard of in Hollywood, Newman kept things real. He once said, “People stay married because they want to, not because the doors are locked.” Furthermore, Newman famously remarked, “I have steak at home. Why should I go out for hamburger?”

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16. The secret of Newman and Woodward’s successful marriage

For Woodward, her favorite thing about Newman was his sense of humor. She told Today, “He’s very good looking and very sexy and all of those things, but all of that goes out the window and what is finally left is if you can make somebody laugh.” Newman, on the other hand, said it was thanks to “some combination of lust and respect and patience. And determination.”

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15. The pair remained in love until the end


Even after 50 years, Newman and Woodward’s romantic flame showed no sign of wavering. Actor Ansel Elgort once recalled a conversation he’d had with a driver to Town and Country which revealed how Newman couldn’t keep his hands off Woodward. He said, “This guy was like 80 and he was making out with his wife [in the back of my car]… They were giggling and his arm was around her and he’s kissing her.’”

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14. The actor did wonders for charity

Off-screen, Newman was also known for his philanthropic endeavors. His cooking talents inspired him to start his food company Newman’s Own in 1982, giving 100 percent of the profits to good causes. As of November 2018, Newman’s Own sales had raised over $535 million for nonprofit organizations across the globe.

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13. His philanthropy was diverse


Newman’s Own wasn’t the only way that Newman gave back to society. Among his numerous charitable ventures, the actor also co-founded the Hole in the Wall Gang summer camps for underprivileged children. Additionally, he co-founded the Safe Water Network, which provides sustainable drinking water for those in need.

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12. President Nixon was his enemy

Newman was vocal in his criticism of American involvement in the war in Vietnam in the latter part of the 1960s. It was because of this that President Richard Nixon placed the actor at number 19 on his “enemies list.” Humorously, Newman later claimed that this was his greatest accomplishment.

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11. Newman was a supporter of gay rights


Newman once declared, “I’m a supporter of gay rights. And not a closet supporter either. From the time I was a kid, I have never been able to understand attacks upon the gay community. There are so many qualities that make up a human being… by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant.”

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10. He’s known as one of the sexiest actors

While there’s clearly more to Newman than his good looks, his handsome appearance and cool charisma made him an iconic actor. And in 1995 he came in at number 12 on Empire Magazine’s list of the “100 sexiest Stars” in movie history. He is perhaps most remembered for his vivid blue eyes.

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9. Newman was effortlessly cool


Though the star may have become a style icon throughout his career, he took a casual approach to the way he looked. Yes, he could be remembered for the buttoned-down shirt he wore in Sweet Bird of Youth, or perhaps for burning his tux on his 75th birthday to protest “formality.”

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8. He was often confused for Marlon Brando

Both Newman and Brando rose to fame playing brooding anti-heroes operating on the fringe of society. However, it seems that the two actors may have had more in common, as fans would often confuse the two. Seemingly not one to disappoint, Newman once admitted to signing close to 500 autographs under Brando’s name.

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7. He used disguises to deflect female attention


Given his looks, Newman was often the subject of female attention. So, to avoid being noticed by amorous fans, he used a range of disguises to go under the radar. Newman would put on sunglasses and fake beards when he left the house, but his attempts to go unnoticed weren’t usually successful.

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6. The roles that could have been

Many of Newman’s movie roles would go on to become iconic, but there were others that the actor turned down. This included the part of Dirty Harry in the film of the same name which ultimately went to Clint Eastwood. Also, there was the role of Quint in Jaws, memorably played by Robert Shaw, and the titular character in Ben-Hur, later filled by Charlton Heston.

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5. The inspiration behind the Green Lantern


Newman’s attractive looks were elevated to heroic status in 1959 when they inspired a revamped version of the DC superhero, Green Lantern. Comic book creator Gil Kane wanted the character to be handsome and suave, much like the character’s Newman played. As a result, when the character was reintroduced he bared a striking resemblance to the then 34-year-old actor.

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4. Newman retired from acting in 2007

Newman announced that he was stepping down as an actor in 2007. During an appearance on Good Morning America he explained, “I’m not able to work anymore as an actor at the level I would want to… You start to lose your memory, your confidence, your invention. So that’s pretty much a closed book for me.”

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3. He tried to keep his illness secret


After Newman retired as an actor, he was due to direct a production of Of Mice and Men at the Westport Country Playhouse in 2008. However, he ultimately pulled out of the gig, citing unspecified health concerns. Newman joked that he was undergoing treatment “for athlete’s foot and hair loss,” when in fact he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. His diagnosis eventually came out through other sources.

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2. Newman died in 2008, aged 83

Sadly, Newman eventually succumbed to cancer, passing away on September 26, 2008, surrounded by his family. Commenting on Newman’s death, Robert Redford said, “There is a point where feelings go beyond words. I have lost a real friend. My life – and this country – is better for his being in it.”

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1. He appeared in Cars 3 posthumously


Even after his death, Newman’s talents continued to delight audiences. Two years prior to his passing, the actor had voiced Doc Hudson in the Pixar movie Cars. And in 2017 – nine years after his death – his voice was used once more in Cars 3, thanks to unused audio clippings from the first film.