Mellencamps Mourn Paul Newman

John Mellencamp’s musical heroes notwithstanding, no one had a bigger impact on him than the late Paul Newman.

“In 1967, me and four other guys went to see ‘Cool Hand Luke’ every night for seven nights straight,” recalled Mellencamp, who was a high school sophomore when he and his pals “stumbled on” Newman’s classic prison drama film at Seymour’s Vondee Theater. “It was winter and we wanted to get out of the house on a Monday night—and we came back Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We saved up our lunch money so we could go and by the end of the week we could recite every line!”

This, of course, was at a time of historic musical creativity.

“There was so much great music to be discovered,” Mellencamp continued. “Remember, there was Dylan, the Stones, the importance of James Brown. But for some reason on that week Paul Newman made the biggest influence on me, probably bigger than Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and James Brown--just by the nature of that character he played.”

Indeed, Newman’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of the nonconformist Luke Jackson had a lasting impression on the young Mellencamp.

“He stood up for himself, and never gave up. But at same time he played by his own rules. Every guy I was with identified with that character, and one guy even started wearing a pop bottle opener around his neck because that’s what Luke did.”
Speaking two days after Newman’s passing, Mellencamp added: “I had very few people in my life I admired, but I admired Newman because of his political stances and activism, his self-deprecation, his ability with women, and his caring for people who were less fortunate. He also showed great integrity in his personal life and kept it private—and he was a loving father. He stood for a lot of things that I think are good in a male role model, and I actually named one of my kids after one of his characters.”

He was referring to his son Hud, the name of the title character played by Newman in the 1963 film drama—for which he was also nominated for an Oscar.

The Mellencamp family sends their condolences to the family of Paul Newman “and anyone else who admired him,” concluded Mellencamp. “He left a beautiful legacy of wonderful antiheroes for all of us to aspire to.”