Posthumous memoirs reveal Paul Newman’s struggle with alcohol

Paul Newman in the 1950s

Paul Newman in the 1950s (Image: GETTY)

Yet Paul Newman was an alcoholic, racked with doubt and plagued by insecurities, who questioned his acting ability, hated the fame that chained him like golden handcuffs to an adoring but intrusive audience, and blamed himself for his son Scott’s drug and alcohol overdose. death.

In a startlingly honest and self-deprecating new memoir, compiled from hundreds of hours of long-lost recordings Newman made in preparation for writing his own biography, he opens up like few stars have dared.

“I’m faced with the awful fact that I know nothing,” the actor confesses in The Extraordinary Life Of An Ordinary Man, out today. “I have big doubts about things… And there are a lot of things I don’t understand about myself either.”

Celebrity memoirs are often self-indulgent, a catalog of successes despite self-destructive impulses, or a litany of bedroom conquests. Rather, Newman approached modest memories of him like a lacerating, confessional spanking combined with the therapist’s couch.

“Here was someone who suspected he was an impostor,” says his daughter Melissa Newman, 61, “an ordinary man with an extraordinary face and luck on his side.” Newman, who died of lung cancer in 2008 at the age of 83, felt personally responsible for the tragic death of her son Scott.

“There was a time, long before he died, that I thought the only way I could free Scott to go his own way was to shoot myself,” Newman said.

“Was there any way I could have told her that she didn’t have to be like me? That he didn’t have to do macho things and that he could be himself?

Joanne Woodward holds her Oscar statuette sitting next to her husband Paul Newman

Joanne Woodward holds her Oscar statuette sitting next to her husband Paul Newman (Image: GETTY)

Revealing that his own father was an alcoholic, Newman admitted to allowing his son’s vices: “If my son, Scott, smoked marijuana, I would smoke with him too. I have wondered in recent years if the serious problems I eventually had with alcohol, which Scott suffered so terribly with addiction, might have been in part inherited: bad blood with Newman’s men.”

Newman hated the unrelenting attention his fame attracted, but his children hated it even more. When she took her six children, three by her first wife Jackie Witte; three more of Oscar-winning actress Joanne Woodward, his wife of 50 years, to Disneyland had to exit through a back exit.

Her Beverly Hills home attracted so many tourists that her children put up a sign: “They’ve moved!” Joanne recalled: “When the children go somewhere with him, they can be pushed aside, as if they don’t count.”

When working on a script, Newman isolated himself from his family at home and often traveled to seek movie roles. Returning home, he could be dominant.

“I had no talent to be a father,” he confessed.

“I could have been more consistent with my children. Could have been more understanding. Could have been more patient. I couldn’t have gone to the place. I could have stopped working. Could have done some things better. I could have done much worse.“

Paul Newman backstage at the Shrine Auditorium during the 67th Annual Academy Awards, March 27, 1995

Paul Newman backstage at the Shrine Auditorium during the 67th Annual Academy Awards, March 27, 1995 (Image: GETTY)

His children from his first marriage, Scott, Susan and Stephanie, were particularly hurt, suffering from their parents’ divorce and having to move between two homes.

“Being a star ruins everything for your kids,” Newman admitted. “I wouldn’t want to have been one of my children.”

Joanne said: “Think how upsetting it must be for girls when their friends are madly in love with their father!”

Seeking solace in alcohol and drugs, Scott went through a series of schools, worked on construction sites, and risked his life as a motorcycle stuntman, refusing to ask his father for money.

When Scott was arrested for fighting with the police after a drunken night, his father’s reaction was to have a couple of beers.

After a motorcycle accident in 1978, Scott, 28, took eight Valium, painkillers, two sedatives with rum and a shot of cocaine, and went to bed. He never
woke up.

“Many are the times that I got down on one knee and apologized to Scott,” Newman said. “I apologize for that part of me that provided the impetus for his own destruction.

“What would it have taken to prevent that? I’m not sure, but I don’t think she could have gone to the movies and been a movie star.

“I couldn’t have drunk. I couldn’t have been a risk taker.”

Paul Newman and his son Scott Newman (1950 - 1978) attend the Ontarion 500 car race

Paul Newman and his son Scott Newman (1950 – 1978) attend the Ontarion 500 car race (Image: GETTY)

Newman blamed his own alcoholism on his frustrations with acting. “I never enjoyed acting, I never enjoyed going out and doing it,” he confessed.

“It’s probably one of the reasons I drank as much as I did.

“The exuberance, the danger, the exhilaration of acting was multiplied by a factor of 80. If I got it just from acting, I wouldn’t have had to go out and be bombarded.”

His impostor syndrome was not helped by the fact that his great career break, starring in The Battler, and then Somebody Up There Likes Me, only came about due to the tragic death in 1955 of his future star James Dean.

“A lot of my success has had to do with what I call Newman’s luck,” he admitted.

Intensely private, Newman hated the intrusions that accompanied his fame. He wore sunglasses in public, partly to protect sensitive eyes, but also as a shield against strangers who demanded to see his cornflower blue orbs.

“There is nothing that makes you feel more like a piece of meat,” he said. “It’s like telling a woman: ‘Open your blouse, I want to see your t**s'”.

Paul Newman plays outlaw Butch Cassidy in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Paul Newman plays outlaw Butch Cassidy in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (Image: GETTY)

Newman’s self-doubts were amplified by his belief that he was never a great actor.

“It was my appearance that got me in the door. Where the hell would I have been if I looked like Golda Meir? Probably nowhere.

In later years he felt his limited powers slipping away. “I can no longer work as an actor at the level that I would like to,” he confessed. “You start to lose your memory, your confidence, your invention.”

Insecurity and innocence led to his first marriage to actress Jackie Witte in 1949 after a whirlwind four-month romance, which he quickly regretted.

“I wonder how I could have been so irresponsible as to take the first girl I ever had a speaking relationship with, marry her and immediately get her pregnant,” he said.

Making his Broadway debut in 1953, he met fellow understudy Joanne Woodward, starting a steamy affair as she unlocked his latent libido.

“I went from not being a huge sexual threat to something completely different,” he said. “Joanne gave birth to a sexual creature.”

They made love all over the United States: “We left a trail of lust everywhere. Hotels and motels and public parks and bathrooms and swimming pools and ocean beaches and noisy seats and Hertz rental cars.”

Once they were married in 1958, Woodward turned one room in her bedroom into a love pit, complete with mattress and champagne stand.

“I call it the F*** Hut,” he told her.

Newman recalled, “Even if my kids came over, we’d go to the F*** Hut several nights a week and just be intimate and loud and raunchy.”

However, Newman remained alone, admitting, “I don’t really have many friends…there aren’t many people I can count on.” He even struggled to know himself, outside of his movie roles, tormented by doubt to the end.

“Do people think I’m William Faulkner’s Ben Quick? Or Hud? Or Butch Cassidy? Or Frank Galvin in The Verdict? Or any of the other parts I’ve played?

“He’s a shell being photographed on screen, chased by fans and getting all the glory. Whereas whoever is really inside of me, the core, remains uncharted, uncomfortable and unknown.”

  • Paul Newman’s The Extraordinary Life Of An Ordinary Man (Century, £25) is published today. To order a copy for £22.50 with free UK postage and delivery, visit expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832

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