Friends said Newman abhorred what he called "noisy philanthropy." He felt the awards and honors offered him were excessive and once declined a national medal in a letter to President Clinton, calling such recognition "honorrhea."
A late bloomer
Friends and neighbors in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights might not have foreseen a future as a sex symbol for Paul Leonard Newman, the late-blooming second son of a sporting goods store owner.
Born Jan. 26, 1925, Newman was too short and scrawny to play football or baseball and once said he regularly had "the bejesus kicked out" of him in school. He was encouraged in the arts by an uncle who wrote poetry and by his mother, who taught him to appreciate music and books and shared details of theater shows she had seen.
Though he acted in elementary and high school plays to the delight of his family, he said his father, a strict, hard-working former journalist, considered him a lightweight and often treated him as if he were disappointed in him.
"I desperately wanted to show him that somehow, somewhere along the line, I could cut the mustard," Newman told Time magazine in 1982. One of the great agonies of his life, he said, was that his father died without seeing his success.
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At 18, Newman enlisted in the Navy, hoping to become a pilot in World War II, but he was rejected for being color blind. He spent three years as a radio operator aboard bombers in the Pacific.
Afterward, he enrolled as a 21-year-old freshman at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he spent some of his happiest days, playing second-string football, drinking beer and getting into trouble. After a barroom brawl landed him in jail, he was kicked off the team. He turned to acting.
"I was probably one of the worst college actors at the time," Newman said years later. "I learned my lines by rote and simply said them without spontaneity, without knowing what it meant to act and react."
However, novelist E.L. Doctorow, a Kenyon freshman at the time, recalled that "there was no question about his talent." He said Newman was popular for being the leading actor on campus and for the laundry concession he operated.
"He was always entrepreneurial," Doctorow said.
After graduating with a degree in English, Newman acted in summer and winter stock productions in Wisconsin and Illinois, thinking he might eventually teach speech or drama. By then, he had married Jacqueline Witte, a fellow actor, with whom he had three children: Scott, Susan and Stephanie. Scott died in 1978 of an overdose of drugs and alcohol.
When his father died in 1950, Newman moved home to run the sporting goods store. A year later, the store was sold and he fled to New Haven, Conn., where he briefly studied drama at Yale University, specializing in directing, before trying his luck in New York.
"I was prepared to try it for a year and, if I got nowhere, to go back to Yale and get my degree," he told Lillian and Helen Ross in the book "The Player: A Profile of an Art." "I had no intention of waiting around till I was old and bruised and bitter."
In New York, then the center of live television and the home of the Actors Studio, Newman picked up lessons in Method acting, a technique that stressed naturalism, while he auditioned for parts and sold encyclopedias to support his family. He subsequently attributed everything he knew about acting to the creative community of actors, writers and directors at the studio. Later, he was president and, though it was never made public, financed the institution's operations for seven years when it fell on hard times.
Described as "gorgeous and intense," the young Newman quickly found small parts in television shows, including "You Are There," as well as a role as a rich college graduate in the Broadway production of "Picnic," in which Woodward was an understudy. When he asked to play the lead, a sexy braggart, director Joshua Logan said the actor was unsuitable because he lacked any "sexual threat" -- a challenge Newman met by embarking on a lifelong routine of vigorous workouts to stay in shape.
His marriage to Witte deteriorated as he began to attract work and positive reviews while his wife's priorities shifted to the children, according to friends. Newman fell into a period of turmoil in which he and Woodward began an affair.
He was arrested once for running a red light, driving into a bush and leaving the scene of an accident. The breakup of his marriage was drawn out, Stern said, because Newman was so concerned about being fair to his wife and children.