Paul Newman died of lung cancer on Friday, September 26th, at age 83. His career as a movie star, producer, and director was legendary. He was a chain-smoker for many years but quit smoking in 1986.
Newman’s illness was not publicly acknowledged until recently, but he had apparently been battling lung cancer for the last 18 months. After finishing chemotherapy in August, Newman told his family that he wished to spend his last days at home surrounded by loved ones.
Newman got his wish, dying on Friday in Westport, Connecticut, surrounded by close friends and family.
In 2007, Newman was quoted as saying, “You can't be as old as I am without waking up with a surprised look on your face every morning: 'Holy Christ, whaddya know - I'm still around' It's absolutely amazing that I survived all the booze and smoking and the cars and the career."
Well, he lasted a long time, to be sure - he lived a full life by almost anyone’s standard. However, the cigarettes did eventually get him. It’s wonderful that Newman quit smoking when he did, but what if he had quit sooner or had not smoked at all – would we have had him around longer?
It’s impossible to say – some people who get lung cancer have never smoked. Just look at Dana Reeve – she died at age 44 of lung cancer and had never smoked a day in her life.
Lung cancer kills more people in the U.S. than any other cancer, with more than 150,000 new cases diagnosed every year, according to the American Cancer Society. About 90 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in smokers or former smokers. Only five percent of lung cancer patients live more than a few years after being diagnosed with the illness.
If Newman had lived into his nineties instead of dying in his early eighties, he would probably have done another film with Robert Redford – the two were talking about collaborating on another project. The tragedy in a life ended due to smoking is that the question of “what might have been” is always there.
For those of us who have smoked and quit, we are always aware that our former smoking might eventually catch up with us. Newman’s demise is a harsh reminder that even 20 years after quitting, lung cancer can still strike.
I quit smoking over 7 years ago and I know every day smoke-free makes me healthier and much more likely to live a long life. But the fear of repercussions due to my former addiction is always there in the back of my mind.
To quiet those fears, I focus on what is good in life and try to help others find freedom from cigarettes. I think 83 is a nice old age that many people would be grateful to be able to enjoy, but 93 seems even better to me – especially if it is a healthy and vibrant life. I’m shooting for 103 myself.
Paul Newman left quite a legacy and he will be missed. But he will be especially missed by his friends and loved ones who surely felt that he left them too soon.