Paul Newman has died at age 83
I remember the first time I saw “Cool Hand Luke.” It was late at night on a weekend, my parents had gone to bed and I stayed up to see what old movies I could find on AMC. I was probably around 10 or 11, just entering that age when boy’s faces started to loom large in my head at night. As I switched the station from Star Trek, which I always watched with my dad at 11pm, to the old movie channel, I was struck by the most beautiful face I’d ever seen. Paul Newman’s wry smile, his naughty, drunkard’s dance around a parking meter, his long lanky body, shocked me right out of adolescence.
As the movie went on I must have catalogued every Cool Hand quality, because I still use them as the measure of a man. Careless but not cruel, wicked but helplessly so, sensitive but stubborn (remember the fight where he keeps getting hit and keeps getting up again, until even the bloodthirsty onlookers are begging him to just lie down…?). There was something infinitely sexy about Luke’s passivity, he took things like a Buddhist monk (a very HOT Buddhist monk) bending but never breaking. It was the kind of supreme confidence that a shy, bullied girl would find enormously attractive.
In life, I saw no reason to separate Cool Hand Luke from Newman himself. He was reckless, taking up race-car driving at 60, but not arrogantly so. He was a philanthropist, founding non-profit company Newman’s Own, but he didn’t proselytise for a cause. It’s strange to be sad about the death of someone you’ve never met, whose last movie I saw was The Color of Money, but knowing I’ll never accidentally run into Paul Newman on the street (or at an Indy 500 rally) makes me want to stay up late.