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Star shone well beyond Hollywood

Paul Newman, one of the last of the great 20th-century movie stars, died Friday at his home in Westport, Conn. He was 83.

The cause was cancer, said Jeff Sanderson, Newman's publicist.

If Marlon Brando and James Dean defined the defiant American male as a sullen rebel, Paul Newman re-created him as a likable renegade, a strikingly handsome figure of animal-high spirits and blue-eyed candor whose magnetism was almost impossible to resist, whether the character was Hud, Cool Hand Luke or Butch Cassidy.

He acted in more than 65 movies over more than 50 years, drawing on a physical grace and unassuming intelligence that made it all seem effortless.

Yet he was also an ambitious, intellectual actor and a passionate student of his craft, and he achieved what most of his peers find impossible: remaining a major star into a craggy, charismatic old age even as he redefined himself as more than a Hollywood star. He raced cars, opened summer camps for ailing children and became a nonprofit entrepreneur with a line of foods that put his picture on supermarket shelves around the world.

“I have lost a real friend,” said Robert Redford, Newman's co-star in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” in a statement. “My life – and this country – is better for his being in it.”

Newman made his Hollywood debut in the 1954 costume film “The Silver Chalice.” but stardom arrived a year and a half later, when he inherited from Dean the role of the boxer Rocky Graziano in “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” Dean had been killed in a car crash before the screenplay was finished.

It was a rapid rise for Newman, but being taken seriously as an actor took longer. He was almost undone by his star power, his classic good looks and, most of all, his brilliant blue eyes. “I picture my epitaph,” he once said. “Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown.”

Newman's filmography was a cavalcade of flawed heroes. In 1958 he was a drifting confidence man determined to marry a Southern belle in “The Long, Hot Summer.”

And in 2002, at 77, having lost none of his charm, he was affably deadly as Tom Hanks' gangster boss in “Road to Perdition.” It was his last onscreen role in a major theatrical release. (He was a voice in the animated film “Cars” in 2006.)

Few major American stars have chosen to play so many imperfect men.

As Hud Bannon in “Hud” (1963), Newman was a heel on the Texas range who wanted the good life and was willing to sell diseased cattle to get it. The character was intended to make the audience feel “loathing and disgust,” Newman told a reporter. Instead, he said, “we created a folk hero.”

As the self-destructive convict in “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), Newman was too rebellious to be broken by a brutal prison system. As Butch Cassidy in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) he was the most amiable and antic of bank robbers, memorably paired with Redford. And in “The Hustler” (1961) he was the small-time pool shark Fast Eddie, a role he re-created 25 years later, now as a well-heeled middle-aged liquor salesman, in “The Color of Money” (1986).

That performance, alongside Tom Cruise, brought Newman his sole Academy Award, for best actor, after he had been nominated for that prize six times. In all, he received eight Oscar nominations for best actor and one for best supporting actor, in “Road to Perdition.” “Rachel, Rachel,” which he directed, was nominated for best picture. He also received two honorary Oscars.

But the movies and the occasional stage role were never enough for him. He became a successful race-car driver, even competing at Daytona in 1995 as a 70th birthday present to himself.

In 1982, as a lark, he decided to sell a salad dressing he had created and bottled for friends at Christmas. Thus was born the Newman's Own brand, an enterprise he started with his friend A.E. Hotchner, the writer. More than 25 years later the brand has expanded to include, among other foods, lemonade, popcorn, spaghetti sauce, pretzels, organic Fig Newmans and wine. All its profits, of more than $200 million, have been donated to charity, the company says.

Much of the money was used to create a string of Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, named for the outlaw gang in “Butch Cassidy.” The camps provide free summer recreation for children with cancer and other serious illnesses. Newman was actively involved in the project, even choosing cowboy hats as gear so that children who had lost their hair because of chemotherapy could disguise their baldness.

Several years before the establishment of Newman's Own, on Nov. 28, 1978, Scott Newman, the oldest of Newman's six children and his only son, died at 28 of an overdose of alcohol and pills. His father's monument to him was the Scott Newman Center, created to publicize the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Newman's three younger daughters are the children of his 50-year second marriage, to actress Joanne Woodward. Newman and Woodward both were cast — she as an understudy — in the Broadway play “Picnic” in 1953. Starting with “The Long, Hot Summer” in 1958, they co-starred in 10 films.

When good roles for Woodward dwindled, Newman produced and directed “Rachel, Rachel” for her in 1968. Nominated for the best-picture Oscar, the film, the story of a schoolteacher tentatively hoping for love, brought Woodward her second of four best-actress Oscar nominations. (She won the award on her first nomination, for the 1957 film “The Three Faces of Eve,” and was nominated for her roles in “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” and the 1973 movie “Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.”)

In an industry in which long marriages might be defined as those that last beyond the first year and the first infidelity, Newman and Woodward's was striking for its endurance. But they admitted that it was often turbulent. She loved opera and ballet. He liked playing practical jokes and racing cars. But as Newman told Playboy magazine, in an often-repeated quotation about marital fidelity, “I have steak at home; why go out for hamburger?”

Though last year Newman had all but announced that he was through with acting, he remained fulfilled by his charitable work, saying it was his greatest legacy, particularly in giving ailing children a camp.

“We are such spendthrifts with our lives,” Newman once said. “The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I'm not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”

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