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Actor and philanthropist Paul Newman leaves behind a legacy modern celebrities will find hard to match.

83-year-old Newman – who passed away after a short illness on Friday – made his movie debut in 1954, and went on to become one of the most well known faces to grace the silver screen, appearing in over 50 films. Born in Ohio, Newman made his acting debut at the age of seven, but didn’t start acting professionally until after serving as a gunner in the Pacific in World War II. When the acting bug did bite, it went on to net Newman 10 Oscar nominations in his five-decade-long career – winning the best actor accolade for his role opposite Tom Cruise in The Color Of Money in 1986 – two Golden Globe awards, a Screen Actors Guild award, a Cannes Film Festival award and an Emmy award.

But it is Newman’s humanitarian and philanthropic efforts that gained him true popularity in the American heart. Much has been written about his Newman’s Own Food Company, the initiative he established in 1982 to manufacture his special salad dressings. Over $200 million were generated by the company for charity over the years, and earlier in 2008 the actor announced he had signed ownership of the company to charity. He wrote a book – titled Shameless Exploitation in the Pursuit of the Common Good – about his work with the company, explaining that the inspiration behind his humanitarian outlook was the death of his son from a drug overdose in 1978, which led him to set up the Scott Newman Center for Drug Abuse Prevention. Much of the money Newman raised went to the Hole in the Wall Gang summer camps he established in 1988. The camps allow ill children to participate in activities such as boating, fishing, swimming, archery, arts and crafts, woodworking, performing arts, horseback riding, overnight camping and group adventures, all while receiving superior 24-hour medical care free of charge. More than 100,000 children from 31 countries have attended the Hole in the Wall camps.

Newman was also one of the founders of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), an organization of CEOs and corporate chairpersons committed to raising the level and quality of global corporate philanthropy. He regularly donated to causes around the world, including a donation of $40,000 to a Welsh Breast Cancer Center and $10 million to Kenyon College last year, and $250,000 to aid refugees in Kosovo in 1999. At the age of 79, he flew to Britain to entertain sick and disabled children in north London by performing as a clown in a special version of Zippo’s Circus.

Newman was a huge fan of car racing, and competed in the San Jose Grand Prix (where he came in second) in 2004 to help raise money for the Canary Foundation. His love of racing led him to narrate the film Dale – based on the life of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt – in 2007, the last film project Newman was to be involved in.

In 2007, Newman announced he was retiring from acting to concentrate on charity work. Last month he was named as one of the top celebrity givers of 2007 in the Giving Back Foundation’s Top 30, with over $10 million donated to needy causes.

“He was really all about philanthropy, and people caring, and people voting, and that’s really who he was,” said Newman’s daughter, Melissa. “So many of his ideas were reaching out. That is what he would like people to remember. Reach out, keep doing it. If we all did something for somebody or some organization today, can you imagine the change that would happen?”

Tributes for Newman have poured in from around the world, and many of the actor’s fellow philanthropic celebrities have been quick to praise the man who inspired several generations, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elizabeth Taylor, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, David Letterman, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, and many others.

“He was purity of heart,” said Taylor. “Working with him was such a joy. Knowing him, being his friend, was as golden as the sunset and a privilege I’ll never forget.”

But perhaps the most poignant tribute came from Robert Redford, Newman’s co-star from 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “There is a point where feelings go beyond words. I have lost a real friend. My life – and this country – is better for his being in it.”

Newman is survived by his wife – actress Joanne Woodward – and their three daughters, Elinor, Melissa and Claire. He also has two daughters, Susan and Stephanie, from his first marriage to Jackie Witte.

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