The Towering Inferno

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When one thinks of style icons, movie stars and all encumbered philanthropists few gentlemen come in the same league as Mr Paul Newman. The Winter Soldier star proves that a closet filled with suave well-cut basics is as potent today as it was 50 years ago.

If Marlon Brando and James Dean stereotyped the quintessential American lad as a brooding, angry young man, Paul Newman defined him as a congenial renegade. An extraordinarily handsome figure of striking high spirits and blue-eyed  honesty whose charismatic charm was almost impossible to resist.

Tall, blond and ocean blue eyes, Paul Newman emulated a physical appearance resembling a modern day Adonis, with none of the vanity. He was so attractive and charismatic that his work as an actor was occasionally unjustly overshadowed. A perennial movie star whose career encompassed the 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond. He gained notable stardom for starring in blockbuster movies like The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. For us, it was his off-screen persona that exuded an insouciant magnetism unlike any other celebrity seen today. Observe any image of Newman, and you’ll notice how he simply will never look anything but effortlessly fresh and suave, regardless of his attire or bearings. This nonchalance combined with his Greek-god good looks made quite the combination behind the camera, but Newman proved to be way more that just an actor.

He starred in over 65 movies in a career spanning over 50 years, displaying an incomparable physical grace, unassertive intelligence and a great sense of humour that made it all seem effortless. Apart from being an ambitious actor he was primarily an ardent slave to his craft. He successfully achieved what most of his peers found impossible due to his inimitable passion.

As Butch Cassidy, Fast Eddie Felson and Luke Jackson, he personified anti-establishment cool. In real life, he was less maverick outsider than being the core pillar of the community. A quintessential family man with a remarkable ability to make sombre formalwear seem as cool and stylish as the rugged workwear he often wore in cinema.

During a particular high-speed driving training for his 1969 film Winning, Newman became smitten with motor racing and attempted to pursue a career on the track. He was mostly successful, he started out with the Bob Sharp Racing team in the Trans-Am Series, and later finishing second in 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans. Perhaps even more remarkable was that at the age of 70, Newman finished second in his class at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona. He even participated in the 2005 24 Hours of Daytona, at the implausible age of 80.

He was also a well known philanthropist, raising and donating millions for charity through his non-profit organisation Newman’s Own. His fashion game was unmatched for years to come.  He had men lining up to drape themselves in sleek denims to envision themselves as tough and as cool as the stylish man they saw on the silver screen.

In the late ’70s, Newman and his close friend A. E. Hotchner came down to his basement – an eclectic former horse stall – assorted some specialty oils, seasoning, and condiments in an old washtub and circulated the results as Christmas gifts. His neighbours, either too gracious to say otherwise or genuinely ecstatic with the concoction, called out for more of the salad dressing the next day. And this is how the definitive celebrity food brand was born.

With Newman it’s the complete package. The comedian, the philanthropist, the non-conformist, the splendid young buck, the ashen tomcat, the crunchy cuss who still sets it all down to sheer luck. The beer-swilling old coot who married a bona fide beauty like Joanne Woodward and stayed married to her. He knew a one in a lifetime kind of woman when we saw one. That attractive lad, stranded in a sea of nobodies, willed his immortality into being. The last class act in America who etched a commemoration as the greatest movie star of all time.

When the star died on 26 September with his family by his side, his daughters described it as being “private and discreet as the way he had lived his life”, his death was grieved far beyond the boundaries of Hollywood.

His most fitting eulogy came from George Clooney, who said: “He set the bar too high for the rest of us. Not just actors, but all of us”.

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