Paul Newman, superstar, director, race car driver, liberal activist, philanthropist and Hollywood’s most famous half-Jew, died Friday at 83.
He passed away at his farmhouse near Westport, Conn., following a long battle with lung cancer.
Over a half-century career, Newman acted in 59 movies and received 10 Oscar nominations. He won the best actor Academy Award in 1987 for his role as a pool hustler in “The Color of Money,” and two honorary Oscars.
To many Jewish viewers, Newman’s most stirring role was as Haganah leader Ari Ben Canaan in the 1960 film “Exodus,” depicting the struggle for Israeli independence.
Director Otto Preminger reportedly picked the classically handsome, piercingly blue-eyed Newman for the lead role because he wanted an actor of Jewish background, but one who didn’t “look” Jewish.
Paul Leonard Newman was born in the Shaker Heights suburb of Cleveland in 1925, the son of Arthur and Theresa Newman.
His father, the owner of a prosperous sporting goods store, was Jewish, and his mother Catholic. Both were descendants of East European immigrants.
His mother later became a Christian Scientist, but Paul always identified himself as a Jew, because, he said, “It is more of a challenge.”
Comedian Adam Sandler celebrated Newman’s background and good looks in his classic 1994 “The Chanukah Song,” with the lines:
Goldie Hawn, half-Jewish
Paul Newman, half-Jewish, too
Put them together, what a fine-looking Jew
Among Newman’s other most memorable films were “Hud,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Verdict,” “The Sting” and “Absence of Malice.”
Newman gave millions to charities through his food company and set up camps for severely ill children. He was a passionate civil rights and anti-Vietnam war activist, and always expressed his pride that he had made President Nixon’s “enemies list.”
He is survived by his second wife, actress Joanne Woodward, five children and two grandsons.