I stopped right in the middle of the grocery aisle yesterday, probably upsetting the lady pushing the cart behind me, struck at the sight of Paul Newman's face on a bottle of Newman's Own pasta sauce. I wondered idly if his recent death had boosted sales and tried to judge it by the number of bottles missing compared to the other brands.
Why am I saddened by the death of someone I have never met? What is the fascination with movie stars, anyhow?
The first thought I had upon hearing of Newman's death (in the airport, seeing it flashed on a tv screen as I stepped out from the plane) was of the actor as a vibrant, healthy young man. It was similar to what you say when someone dies unexpectedly: "But I just saw him the other day!" As if that would make it impossible for the person to die. For me it was something like: "But I just watched The Hustler, and he looked great!" Never mind that the movie is 40+ years old. I tried to do the math in my head. If he was in his 30s then, was he, say, late 70s at his death? Nope. 83. Not a bad run.
What are the stages of grief again? I went from Denial pretty quickly to Acceptance. On to reliving the happy memories of the deceased, which in this case for me means rewatching some great Paul Newman movies. I started my personal tribute with The Long Hot Summer. There he is, strong and sexy and so alive. I remembered why I love this movie, why one time watching it I paused it repeatedly to write down the best lines. ("If you're saving it all for him, honey, you've got your account in the wrong bank.") I remembered a time when I was in a place more like Joanne Woodward's character, single and feeling old and pining away for the wrong guy. Not a bad deal for her, having Paul Newman come along. He really sizzles.
And there's the connection for me. The remembrance tugging at me is not so much of a man I never met, but of the way I felt watching him in different roles. The moment of escape, getting caught up in the story, imagining myself as a part of it. Maybe he didn't share those emotions with me, but in a way, I shared them with him. The movies are fake, but the feelings they conjure are real.
So, even though this loss changes nothing for me (I can still watch his movies, which is all I ever had of him anyway) I guess I'm in a sort of mourning for Paul Newman. How will I cope? Up next is The Sting, and maybe a bag of Champion Chip Cookies. The orange ones.
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