News of Paul Newman's death Friday left fans and admirers with a feeling of abrupt loss this weekend, wondering how a figure of grace who always had been close at hand -- whether onscreen in one of his 50-plus film roles or, in a late-career twist, smiling down from bottles of salad dressing on supermarket shelves -- was suddenly gone.
ABC's Barbara Walters had one of the last extended conversations with the blue-eyed titan, catching up with Newman last fall at Limerock Racetrack in Lakeville, Conn., where the film star went on weekends to indulge his passion for auto racing.
"There's something exhilarating about it," Newman, 82 at the time, told Walters. "I don't plan to be winning a lot of races, but it's fun to just get in the car, and it's very relaxing actually."
In the interview, Newman told Walters that he would no longer work as an actor -- despite having been nominated for an Academy Award for his role alongside Tom Hanks in "Road to Perdition" just five years earlier.
"I simply cannot remember lines, and maybe it's become psychological, or whatever," Newman said. "Doesn't make any difference. Because once your confidence goes, you're working at maybe 50 percent of your potential."
The two went on to talk about Newman's philosophy of life, his long marriage to actress Joanne Woodward, his opinion on his own looks and what his epitaph would be. A transcript of the interview, beginning with Newman's take on his early years in the business, follows.
Newman: I certainly never expected to be a professional actor. I never expected to be in movies.
Walters: What did you expect? What were you going to do?
Newman: I thought I would probably become a teacher.
Walters: Then you were discovered and the rest is history.
Newman: I don't know that it's history. It's there.
Walters: Do you miss acting?
Walters: You do?
Newman: Very much.
Walters: You're a very modest person. There's always been about you a kind of laid back, easy-going, don't-take-credit-for-it person. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Newman: Yes, but I don't see anything special in that. What if I had looked different? Would I have gotten that first chance? No.
Walters: From which everything sprung?
Newman: There you are. That answers the question.
Walters: Did you think you were handsome?
Newman: I was told that.
Walters: Do you think you're handsome now?
Newman: I think I'm ancient now.
Walters: Paul, I think you're handsome.
Newman: Well, thank you.
Walters: Everybody always talks about your long marriage, 50 years to Joanne. Do you consider it an amazing accomplishment?
Newman: We're very different and the fact that we've managed to take those differences and admire them so much in the other one, I think that's what makes the binding work.
Walters: How are you different?
Newman: I think I'm a little more adventurous than Joanne is.
Walters: When you get in that car, what does racing give you?
Newman: It gives me grace. Being in a race car is the first time that I've felt graceful.
Walters: Do you have a philosophy?
Newman: Well, yes, I think maybe I do. I think it's really important to be attentive to the people who have less -- who are less fortunate than you are.
Walters: And you have been, especially to children.
Walters: What would your epitaph be?
Newman: That I was part of my times.
Walters: Has it been a good life?
Newman: Oh, yeah.
Late in the interview, when Walters asked Newman for his thoughts on longevity and mortality, he related a story about his mother.
"My mother on her death bed said, 'Paul, you have to excuse me, I've been lying all these years, I'm not 83, I'm 87.'" Newman told Walters. "And when we took her back to Cleveland, to be buried next to my father, her sister was there.
"And I said, 'You know, mother said that she had been lying all these years, and that she wasn't 83, that she was 87.'
"And her sister said, 'Baloney, she was 93.'"