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Paul Newman's Luck

He says he owes his good fortune to great genes, but Paul Newman has overcome a distant dad, too much booze, and the death of his son to remain a superstar at, yes, 80

"He's a great-looking man,but he's always been utterly unpretentious and sane," says his friendWarren Beatty. "It's hard to think of a bad word to say abouthim…. It's interesting. Maybe I don't know him wellenough." He's kidding, of course. Beatty was only 23 and a newcomer inHollywood when he attended Newman's 35th birthday party in the penthouse ofthe Chateau Marmont. "It was when Paul and Joanne were an item, beforethey were married," he recalls. "They were just sensible,intelligent, nice people. I'm making them sound boring, but theyweren't."

With their careers taking off, the couple made an effort to stay grounded,settling away from Hollywood in a 1760 stone colonial with a barn convertedinto a guesthouse in the bucolic environs of Westport, Connecticut. It wasthere they raised their three daughters, Nell, Melissa, and Clea.

But Newman's life has not been the fairy tale some people imagine. Headmits that in his younger years he indulged in enough scotch and cigarettes tonearly kill him. (Today he drinks only Budweiser.) Then, in 1978, he lost hisson, Scott, to an overdose of drugs and alcohol at a time when father and sonwere estranged. "In the early part of my parenthood, I didn't pay theproper kind of attention," he says. "There were terrible, terriblemisjudgments."

His own father was strict and emotionally distant. Arthur Newman owned aprosperous sporting-goods store in Cleveland and raised his family in affluentShaker Heights. Second son Paul was smaller, less athletic, and less studiousthan his older brother, Art Jr. At Kenyon College, he immersed himself inacting after being thrown off the football team for drunken brawling, and helikes to say he graduated "magna cum lager" with a degree in speech.One gets the feeling that Newman has been trying ever since to compensate forhis misspent youth, when "I couldn't find a reason to respectmyself." The remorse he feels about his relationship with his dad helpsexplain why he has repeatedly been drawn to father-son relationships in hiswork. "One of my great regrets in life is that my father never had achance to see me be successful," Newman says. "He died when he was 57years old, and he saw me as a ne'er-do-well."

As the years have passed, Newman's great gift to his audience has beento share unflinchingly the sorrows and frayed edges of his twilight years. Hecould easily have coasted into old age as a leading man emeritus. Instead, hehas deepened his craft with vivid performances that keep getting him Oscarnominations (for The Verdict, Nobody's Fool, Road toPerdition) and his only best-actor Oscar, for reprising his role as TheHustler's Eddie Felson in 1986 for Martin Scorsese's The Color ofMoney. In the summer of 2003, Newman returned to Broadway after a 38-yearhiatus and earned a Tony nomination for his role as the stage manager in a hitrevival of Our Town.

Acting does not define his life, however. Indeed, the older he gets, themore multifaceted his life seems to become as he divides himself among hisroles as husband and father, activist, racecar driver, and entrepreneur."I keep trying to retire from everything, and I discover I've retiredfrom absolutely nothing," he says.

"Paul is an absolutely vital human being who spends his life pushingthe envelope," says Robert Benton, who directed him in Nobody'sFool. "Fortunately, that comes with discipline and responsibility andconscience. He lives boldly."

Too boldly, at times, for his wife. Newman has redirected some of hispassion into a second career as an amateur racecar driver and the owner ofNewman/Haas Racing, a team on the Champ car circuit (a type of Formula 1racing). Woodward, who has appeared opposite her husband in 11 films and beendirected by him in five, including Rachel, Rachel, for which shereceived an Oscar nomination, rues the day she costarred with him in theIndy-500 flick Winning (1969) and watched him fall in love with the roarof a V-8 engine and the stink of exhaust in the pits. "I was never good atsports," he says, "and I dance like an elephant. Racing was the firsttime I found grace." He holds a place in the Guinness World Recordsas the oldest driver to win a professionally sanctioned race.

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