Paul Newman

The DOG just called me to break the news.
“Paul Newman died.”
I rarely cry when a celebrity dies — I think Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck were the exceptions — but this news just broke my heart. Tears were spontaneous and immediate.
I met Paul Newman a few years ago in the lobby of a theater during intermission of a show that I attended with my friend Tedd as part of an assignment for one of our classes at Neighborhood Playhouse. At some point during the show, one of our classmates, seated behind us, had leaned forward and whispered that he thought he saw Paul Newman in the audience. Tedd and I had scanned the not-so-large audience, seen no one even remotely Paul Newman-esque, and scoffed at our friend’s apparent lack of visual acuity.
So when we were milling around during intermission and actually saw Paul Newman doing the same, we silently squealed, not wanting to act uncool in front of this guy who was the embodiment of Cool. I was struck by how compact, fit, quiet, unassuming, and handsome he was, and how incredibly blue his eyes were. And how absolutely humble and gentle and soft-spoken he was when we met.
A classmate was working the concession stand, which was selling Newman snacks, and when I said to her, before meeting him, “Isn’t he devastating?” she asked who I was talking about.
“Paul Newman!” I said.
“Oh, yes!” she said, indicating the array she had been ringing up that night.
“No, I mean over there,” I said, indicating the man in the navy blue sweater and jeans, who was standing around talking quietly to a few admirers, mixed in with everyone else, not making a fuss over himself.
“Paul Newman?” she shrieked, her Turkish accent making the name sound kind of cartoonish. “Paul NEWMAN? Paul NEWMAN?”
“Yes! Yes!” I said.
“Oh! I just sold him some of his own stuff!” she said. “I can’t believe I just made him pay for his own stuff!”
I was enchanted that he paid for his own stuff.
I also met his wife, the inimitable Joanne Woodward, and was enchanted by her as well, charmed beyond belief by her gracious attitude. She held both of my hands as she spoke with me for quite some time. She laughed with me about the Neighborhood Playhouse and the fact that the same pianist that accompanied ballet class was still playing there. I told her the actual theater in the school was my favorite part of the place, and she told me that she and her husband had given them the seats that I found so comfortable and fabulous because they were old.
When my friend and I left the theater after the show, we chatted a bit about what we had just seen onstage and how thrilled we were to be living in New York. Then we stopped as we walked down Broadway, turned to each other, widened our eyes in unison, waited a beat, and then took hold of each other’s arms and shouted, “Oh my god! We just met Paul Newman! We just met Joanne Woodward! Oh my god! Paul Newman! Joanne Woodward!” and for some reason started leaping down Broadway laughing like hyenas.
It was one of the highlights of my experience of living here then and will be one of the highlights of my experience living here always. (Of course, meeting his dog was also a highlight as well.)
Rest in peace, you beautiful, mesmerizing, remarkable man. The world has lost one of its truly great and genuine human beings.