One of my earliest memories of Paul Newman outside of the movies was watching him on Phil Donahue debate nuclear proliferation with some Edward Teller type decrying Newman and anyone like him as wet noodle pinkos. Since I was already obsessed with the topic at an early age thanks to my father's books on Oppenheimer I took a particular interest in the debate and came down squarely on Newman's side.
His arguments were nothing special but they were logical to a fault. For instance, he used the old warhorse about matches in a gas filled room. If one will blow it up then what point is it to have more matches than the other guy? If a few hundred well placed nuclear warheads can destroy an entire nation and a few thousand, the world, then why continue to spend billions building up arsenals in the tens of thousands?
I'm not trying to create a political agenda with this post, and please feel free to not discuss this topic at all in the comments. I'm just saying that as someone with a substantial interest in this topic, Newman became one of my earliest movie heroes off the screen.
Most people get annoyed at celebrities getting political in the public arena but it's never bothered me. In most cases, I find their views simplistic and uninformed. Easy to ignore. But if they want to use their public profile to push a pet cause of theirs, and no one is being hurt, I say more power to them. But Newman annoyed people because he wasn't simple and he wasn't uninformed. He spoke from the heart and did his research. He pissed people off because he couldn't be written off. I admire him for that.
And, oh yeah, he was a hell of an actor. I admire that too.