I almost hesitate to label him an icon, as that term (diva’s another) has been bastardized by the VH-1 entertainment media. But Newman qualifies.
He was Hud, Butch Cassidy, Fast Eddie Felson, Reg Dunlop and Cool Hand Luke. He raced cars and drank Buds.
Sadly, Newman is nearing the end, having been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, though his good humor is intact. Through a spokesman, Newman says he’s being treated for athlete’s foot and hair loss. Classic — and classy.
He just turned over $120 million in profits earned from his food brand to charity; in 2006, he personally donated more than $8 million “to a variety of groups that support children, hurricane relief in the Gulf Coast, education and the arts.”
Newman was the first celebrity I ever interviewed, and easily the most impressive. Of course I was intimidated, though less so when I discovered I was about an inch taller than him. I figured him for a giant.
Our exchange was brief, and I acquitted myself poorly, stammering stock questions that he’d likely heard a million times before. He could’ve been an asshole, but that wasn’t his style.
(Here’s Newman at his best, as alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin in “The Verdict.” He was robbed of an Oscar that year, losing to Ben Kingsley’s “Gandhi,” though I suspect he didn’t lose any sleep over the slight.)