Paul Newman dies at 83

** FILE ** In this June 27, 2002 file photo, actor Paul Newman talks about his movie "Road to Perdition," during an interview in Chicago. (AP Photo/Aynsley Floyd, file)
By  | 

Paul Newman, the legendary actor whose steely blue eyes, good-humored charm and advocacy of worthy causes made him one of the most renowned figures in American arts, has died of cancer at his home in Westport, Connecticut. He was 83.

He died Friday, according to spokeswoman Marni Tomljanovic.

Newman attained stardom in the 1950s and never lost the movie-star aura, appearing in such classic films as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Exodus," "The Hustler," "Cool Hand Luke," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Sting" and "The Verdict."

He finally won an Oscar in 1986 -- on his eighth try -- for "The Color of Money," a sequel to "The Hustler." He later received two more Oscar nominations. Among his other awards was the Motion Picture Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Newman was a Method-trained actor who blazed his own career trail and didn't shy away from risky roles -- inside and outside films.

A portrayal as a race-car driver in 1969's "Winning" led to his actual competition in races; at 70, he participated in the 24 Hours of Daytona and he was still racing at age 80.

He stumped for liberal causes, including Eugene McCarthy's 1968 presidential candidacy, and earned a spot on Richard Nixon's enemies list -- "the highest single honor I've ever received," he said.

In 1982, Newman and his friend A.E. Hotchner founded Newman's Own, a food company that produced food ranging from pasta sauces to salad dressing to chocolate chip cookies.

"The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films," Newman once wryly noted.

To date, the company -- which donates all profits to charities such as Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang camp -- has given away more than $200 million. Newman established the camp to benefit gravely ill children.

Newman was half of one of the most successful showbiz marriages -- to Joanne Woodward, whom he married in 1958. He observed that just because he was a sex symbol there was no reason to commit adultery.

"Why would I go out for a hamburger when [I] have steak at home?" he asked.

Paul Leonard Newman was born on January 26, 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. His father owned a successful sporting goods store, but young Paul was taken with his mother's and uncle's interest in the arts and started acting while still in grade school.

"I wasn't running toward the theater but running away from the sporting goods store," he said later.

After being kicked out of Ohio University for unruly behavior, he joined the Navy and served for three years during World War II. After the war he attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where his unruly ways led him to theater.

Newman continued studying acting at Yale and at New York's Actors' Studio, earning jobs in the growing medium of television.

He made his Broadway debut in William Inge's 1953 play "Picnic," opposite Kim Stanley, one of the most successful stage actresses of her time. The next year he made his first Hollywood film, "The Silver Chalice," a bomb that he mocked for the rest of his life. He even took out a newspaper ad apologizing for his performance.

But success as boxer Rocky Graziano in "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (1956) made him a star, and more hits followed: "The Long, Hot Summer" (1958) opposite his soon-to-be wife, Woodward; "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958) with Elizabeth Taylor; and "The Young Philadelphians" (1959).

But the 1960s were to be Newman's decade, a perfect match for his ironic, anti-establishment attitude.

He began the decade with "Exodus" (1960), an epic about Israel's founding directed by Otto Preminger, and succeeded it with "The Hustler" (1961) as pool shark Fast Eddie Felson; "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962), another Tennessee Williams work; and "Hud" (1963), "Harper" (1966) and "Hombre" (1967), continuing a good-luck streak of films beginning with "H."

After "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), in which he played the egg-eating malcontented title character, he turned to directing, earning raves for his behind-the-camera work on "Rachel, Rachel" (1968), starring his wife.

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) and "The Sting" (1973) teamed Newman with co-star Robert Redford and director George Roy Hill. The trio proved to be box-office gold: They were two of the highest-grossing films of their time, winning a slew of awards -- including a best picture Oscar for the latter, a tale of con men in 1930s Chicago.

Newman finally teamed up with Steve McQueen, who had been scheduled to be his co-star in "Butch Cassidy," in 1974's "The Towering Inferno." Though the Irwin Allen-produced disaster film earned mixed critical notices, it, too, was one of the most successful box-office films of the era.

Newman's career started faltering in the late '70s as he turned his attention to his other pursuits, notably racing. The loss of his son Scott to a drug overdose in 1978 hit the actor hard.

He made an artistic comeback with 1982's "The Verdict," the story of an ambulance-chasing hard-luck lawyer in which Newman appeared broken, raspy and every inch of his 58 years.

By the time Newman starred in "The Color of Money," directed by Martin Scorsese, his movie career had slipped a notch. Never afraid of playing his age, Newman portrayed a repressed businessman in 1990's "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge," a cantankerous lodger in "Nobody's Fool" (1994), a fatherly, retired gangster in "Road to Perdition" (2002), and the voice of a Hudson Hornet in "Cars" (2006).

He gained some of his best reviews for his performance as the stage manager in a Broadway production of Thornton Wilder's classic play, "Our Town," filmed for television in 2003, and was perfectly cast as the rascally father to Ed Harris' responsible diner owner in the miniseries "Empire Falls."

In recent years, Newman talked about doing another film with his friend Redford, but the two couldn't settle on a script. In 2007, Newman said he was retiring from acting, saying he'd lost confidence in his abilities. Still, he marveled at his own resilience.

"You can't be as old as I am without waking up with a surprised look on your face every morning: 'Holy Christ, whaddya know - I'm still around!' It's absolutely amazing that I survived all the booze and smoking and the cars and the career."

Newman, who was married to Jackie Witt from 1949 to 1957, is survived by his wife, Joanne Woodward, and five children.