Why Paul Newman Decided To Walk Away From Acting

Paul Newman's legacy extends well beyond his Hollywood endeavors. He was a four-time national champion driver for the non-profit Sports Car Club of America and maintained a passion for auto racing all the way through to his twilight years. Newman also co-founded Newman's Own, a non-profit food company that has donated more than $570 million to various charities since 1982.

Newman's page on the SCCA website recounts a story about him going to lunch with famed motorsports journalist Robin Miller, recalling Newman dressed to avoid sticking out. "He didn't want to be Paul Newman at the racetrack, he just wanted to be part of the racing family," the outlet notes. His love of racing went back to 1969's "Winning," in which Newman plays a race car driver dedicated to winning the Indianapolis 500, causing him to neglect his marriage to his wife (Newman's real-life wife Joanne Woodward). Starring in the film meant turning down higher-paying offers, but the chance to learn how to drive a race car was too much for Newman to pass up.

His love of racing, coupled with his distaste for the fame that comes with being a Hollywood icon, made it easier for Newman to drift away from acting later in his career. In fact, by the time he won his first Oscar for 1986's "The Color of Money," it had already become a bigger priority for him than the movies.

Too many good cars

"The Color of Money" sees Paul Newman reprising his role as pool hustler Edward "Fast Eddie" Felson from 1961's "The Hustler." It's the closest thing to a franchise movie Martin Scorsese has ever directed, pairing Newman opposite the then up-and-coming Tom Cruise as Vincent Lauria, a hot-shot pool player whom Eddie takes under his wing. Newman would go on to win the Oscar for Best Actor thanks to his performance in the film, although it was one of those victories that felt like it was more about an actor's body of work than the role at hand. None of that is to take away from Scorsese's movie, of course, which finds Newman in top-form per usual.

Tellingly, Newman wasn't even present at the 1987 Oscars ceremony when he won for "The Color of Money." After reporter Lorraine Kimel managed to snag an interview with him fresh off his win, Newman openly admitted acting had become less interesting to him than racing. "I think at this stage of my life [racing is] probably more important [than acting]. And there are not that many films to do and there are a lot of good cars to drive," he explained.

True to his word, Newman would go on to act in less than a dozen live-action films over the final 30 years of his career. He received two more acting Oscars nods after that, including one for 1994's "Nobody's Fool" and the other for 2002's "Road to Perdition." This period also saw Newman team up with the Coen Brothers and Sam Raimi for their 1994 screwball comedy "The Hudsucker Proxy" and lend his voice to Pixar's 2006 animated movie "Cars." For as rarely as he acted over these years, he could still be counted on to choose interesting projects.

Aging with grace

Never one to hide his age, Paul Newman declined to dye his hair after going grey in his early 40s. He would hold onto that look for the rest of his movie career, starting in the 1960s and carrying on to his work in famous '70s titles like "The Sting," "The Towering Inferno," and "Slap Shot." But as much as his passion for driving pushed him away from Hollywood in the decades that came later, it wasn't the only factor. At a certain point, time had begun to catch up with Newman.

He talked about this in the last interview he gave Barbara Walters, not too long before his death in September 2008. "I simply cannot remember lines, and maybe it's become psychological, or whatever. Doesn't make any difference. Because once your confidence goes, you're working at maybe 50 percent of your potential," Newman explained.

His final on-screen role in the 2005 mini-series "Empire Falls" finds Newman playing Max Roby, a vagabond from the titular small town whose blunt manner both endears him to and makes him a thorn in the side of those around him, including his family. Newman would go on to win an Emmy for the role, along with various other honors. In many ways, it's a fitting encapsulation of his relationship with Hollywood, an industry that never hesitated to shower him with accolades no matter how often Newman made it clear he was happier racing cars and doing non-profit work than playing the celebrity game.