We consider ourselves something of an amateur expert on David Letterman, as we’ve spent an hour a day with him, five times a week, for the past two decades. And so we knew already that the big guy had a lot of affection for Paul Newman (who didn’t?). Newman appeared on the Letterman show often, and was always a stellar guest — elegant, funny, and a great sparring partner for Mr. Letterman, who clearly got a huge kick out of the actor/race-car driver/humanitarian.
Last night, Mr. Letterman was clearly emotional as he talked about his friend and fellow car nut. He told a long and funny story involving the pair’s shared geekdom over car engines (Newman apparently put a Porsche engine inside his VW Rabbit). But it’s clearly Newman’s charitable works that deeply impressed the host. “But the thing, for me, as I spent more time with him and he was on the show many many times, what I realized about this guy is yeah, he’s a great actor. And yes, he can drive race cars really fast. But if you could watch what he was doing, you realized, here is a guy who knew how to live his life because he took care of other people. And it wasn’t just here and there. It was a full time commitment.” Mr. Letterman spoke of Newman raising 250 million dollars for charity. “So, if you have a legacy, if you are worried about your legacy, I mean, my god, how about that? Here’s a guy who knew that what you needed to do as a human on this planet was take care of your fellow humans. And he never faltered from that commitment. That right there, for me, that’s it. I don’t care that he won an Academy Award or could drive a race car….”
Mr. Letterman showed a montage of Newman as a guest on Late Night With David Letterman, including the first show in 1993 on CBS, where the actor stood up in the audience and asked, “Where the hell are the singing cats?”