Paul Newman: A Salute To the Best Sports Movie Star

Dan BooneSenior Analyst IJuly 31, 2008

Paul Newman was a legendary Oscar winning actor.

He also played sports characters better then anyone in Hollywood land ever did.

Better then anyone ever.

And his range in the world of sports was wide.

Newman's break through role was his Oscar nominated performance as the alcoholic, broken, ex SEC football all star Brick Pollit in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The blue eyes are bitter as Newman battles estranged wife "Maggie the Cat", the luscious Liz Taylor, and his over bearing father, Burl Ives as Big Daddy, while trying to drown his own inner demons with drink.

Before his break out Newman was lauded for playing real life middle weight boxing legend Rocky Graziano in his acclaimed bio pic Somebody Up There Likes Me.

The Rock lived a rough life before making money with his fast fists. Replacing the deceased James Dean in the title role Newman did a great job and handled the boxing scenes extremely well.

Acquittances of the real Rocky said Newman made a very brutally mean man likable on screen. Quiet an accomplishment. Also look for Steve McQueen in his first role also.

In Hemingway's Adventures as a Young Man, based on Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, Newman also played a boxer, "The Battler."

In an underrated performance, under heavy make up, the young Newman plays a sad, punch drunk fighter with severe brain damage.

Now that would have made a fine final Rocky. And more realistic also. But Hollywood no longer takes chances.

Newman did a bit part as a New York Yankee baseball player in the TV series Bang the Drum Slowly.

Perhaps his most famous role came shortly after as Fast Eddie Felson the young pool shark battling Minnesota Fats in The Hustler.

Newman nabbed another Oscar nomination as the hubris fueled hustler.

25-years later playing the same character, though wiser and beaten down by life, Newman won the best actor award in The Color of Money opposite Tom Cruise.

So maybe some folks say pool isn't much of a sport.

But what about poker?

Maybe Newman's best and funniest role was as the lovable grifter Henry Gondorff, opposite Robert Redford's Johnny Hooker, in The Sting.

The Sting has poker, it has horse racing, and it has the great Robert Shaw as Doyle Lonnegan being stung.

Newman had memorable forays into poker in John Huston's Life and Times of Roy Bean, as the violent, irritable, poker playing old west judge, and in another of his legendary Oscar nominated roles as Luke in Cool Hand Luke.

"Sometimes nothing can be a pretty cool hand." Newman's Luke sadly says

Everyone remembers the egg eating contest. But Newman also boxed the brutish, Oscar winning George Kennedy and played a bit of poker.

But back to "real" sports.

Who can forget the cult hockey hit Slap Shot?

The hilarious tale of a failings semi-pro hockey team, the Charleston Chiefs, with those geeky looking thugs the Hanson brothers and Newman as their aging player coach Reg Dunbar.

Every sport fan should catch it. But beware the fouls, and foul language, Newman said after making Slap Shot he started swearing more joking that he knew it was a problem when found himself saying to his daughter "pass the f**** salt"

In Larry McMurtry's Texas epic Hud Newman was nominated for another Oscar for playing the title role, a ruthless, rebellious, nihilistic, cynical cowboy.

Hey horse riding and wrangling is a hard athletic endeavor. Doubt me? Go lasso a wild mustang, Bubba.

What about the athletic art of the quick draw?

Check out Newman slapping leather as Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun and as the half-Apache John Russell in Hombre.

To some hunting is man's oldest sport and Newman played America's most famous hunter, Buffalo Bill Cody in Buffalo Bill and the Indians.

And if you consider bank robbing a sport, Newman has been Butch Cassidy and the elderly heist man Henry Manning in Where the Money Is.

Well bank robbers really gotta be able to run. The ones with the guns do anyway not so much the ones with the computers and expensive suits.

But what about the film that inspired Newman's real life sports passion. The only sport Newman once said he ever "had any real grace in."

In Winning, Newman plays Indianapolis 500 driver Frank Capua.

For race fans its a must see, many real race drivers appear in it along with actual footage, and it inspired Newman's life long love affair with racing.

Newman finished second second in the 1979 Le Mans 24-hour race in a Porsche 935 and owns half of the Champ Car (auto racing) team Newman-Haas.

Newman also provided the narration for several racing features including the documentary Dale, dealing with the life of Dale Earnhardt.

Old Blue Eyes  played sports characters that suit most every fans interest.

Boxers, baseball players to billiards,and poker players, cowboys and hunters to hockey players, race car drivers to washed up footballers...

No one will ever match his range.

So a  farewell and salute to an American sports icon.

But, at least, we have him immortalized on film. Celluloid heroes never age.

Eat an egg, if ye wish but lift a glass! Lift a Cold Coors, Newmans favorite, or any other beer.

Cheers to Paul Newman!

We won't see his like again.

"I had no natural gift to be anything--not an athlete, not an actor, not a writer, not a director, a painter of garden porches--not anything. So I've worked really hard, because nothing ever came easily to me."

Paul Newman, RIP

**Thanks to IMBD for the detailed bio help and filmography.


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