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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 also adores his role as Pop-Pop to his two grandsons, the children of his fourth daughter, Melissa. The family lives just a couple hundred yards from the Newman-Woodward homestead. "We've shrunk the umbilical cord to about 400 feet," says Newman. "It's hard with Joanne working"—he's proud of his wife's great success as the artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse—"but we are lucky in that we see much more of them than most grandparents."

There it is again, the luck thing. "My health is good, my knees are good"—he does a couple of deep knee bends to prove it—"and I've got a good lady," Newman says. "So I have nothing to complain about." He pauses, considering whether to amend this thought. "At my age, I ought to be able to complain about something."

In January he invited his whole clan and close friends to Westport to mark his 80th birthday at a classical concert by the Emerson String Quartet, which he had booked two years in advance. The evening's printed program bore this quotation: "Happiness is good health and a bad memory." The after-party in the Newmans' guesthouse was warm and affectionate, although the self-effacing birthday boy could have lived without the laudatory toasts. Nell chose to celebrate her father's long life by reading this passage from Walt Whitman:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people…and your very flesh shall be a great poem.

Nell smiles. "Sounds like Pop, doesn't it?"

Veteran Hollywood writer Nancy Griffin is West Coast editor for the magazine.

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