The Weight of His Father’s Shadow

Wealth. Access. Status. Options.
Kids of fame have it made.

Today’s story is about Scott Newman, son of Paul Newman, garnered from public sources.

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” –Democritus
his father's shadow

Paul Newman and his son Scott Newman

Paul Newman is remembered for much. Star of the screen. Stunning good looks. A 50-year marriage. “Newman’s Own” foods.

Scott, Paul’s only son, dwelt in the darkness of his father’s shadow. Joanne Woodward, Paul’s second wife and Scott’s stepmom, commented, “When the kids go anywhere with him, they can be pushed aside by fans, as if they don’t count, as if they’re nothing in themselves.”

A friend observed, “He was always competing with his father’s image.”

Scott himself complained,
“It’s hell being his son,
I don’t have his blue eyes.
I don’t have his talent.
I don’t have his luck.
I don’t have anything… that’s me.”

Sunday, November 19, 1978. The TV was tuned to NFL games. Still suffering pain from a recent motorcycle accident it started with rum…continued with Valium…and ended with cocaine. Scott tragically died at a young 28.

His father’s shadow. There was much speculation. Many thought Scott couldn’t handle the long shadow of Paul’s fame. But parachutes were also to blame.

Scott dropped out of college in the late 1960’s. He tried becoming a stuntman in Dad’s films. He took up skydiving, jumping over 500 times. That parachute was a metaphor for his life. Scott tried acting, playing small roles, including a fireman in Towering Inferno, a film starring his dad.

Scott sang cabaret in small clubs (under the name William Scott to establish an identity apart from his dad). His voice and drinking got in the way. Clearly Scott wanted to be his own man. When Paul offered help with an acting career, Scott defiantly said,

“I’m not taking any acting help from my father. I want my work to stand on its own merit.”

But those were words of rebellion, spoken in spite. Scott did accept help from Dad…time after time. Movie roles, TV shows, stuntman gigs. He likely hated himself for it.

You have to feel his pain. Scott desperately wanted to get out of Paul’s shadow— to be his own man. But he lived with a curse…a parachute.

When one path got boring or tough, Scott could bail out he had a chute. It drove him to drink, to drugs, and eventually to the morgue.

“True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Last Saturday I invited my son, Corey, to a movie. He said no, “Dad I have to check on a job.” Corey, with two friends, is building his own company, determined to succeed. When Corey needed financial help to start the firm, I said yes, with one catch. That was it. Make it work, “Corey, there’ll be no more loans.” With no escape, Corey is making it work with a sense of accomplishment Scott never knew.

What can we learn from Scott’s tragic death?

The longer the shadow, the higher you must fly.

When turbulence looms, it’s easy to bail … when you have a chute.

Photo credit: Tumblr. Newman & Joanne Woodward quotes, and the information concerning Scott’s death were derived from news accounts, Paul’s biography, “A Life by Shawn Levy” and A. E. Hotchner’s book “Paul and Me.”

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