One of the most legendary friendships in Hollywood history is the one that went down between pals Robert Redford and Paul Newman before the latter’s death in 2008. Today, Robert still holds his old friend close to his heart, despite the fact that the two only managed to make two films together during the several decades that they were friends. Join Facts Verse as we explore the truth about Robert Redford and Paul Newman’s relationship.
The friendship between legendary actors Robert Redford and Paul Newman began during the production of the 1969 feature film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Paul had already signed onto the film as Butch Cassidy, and the studio was looking for another big star to play the part of the Sundance Kid. Some of the names that the studio were kicking around for ideal candidates to play the character included Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen. However, Paul had his heart set on a relatively unknown actor that had tested for the part, and that actor was Robert Redford.
As legend has it, Paul had his heart set on Robert because he liked the man’s acting chops. Paul eventually got his way, and Robert was hired onto the film to play the part of the Sundance Kid. Robert was incredibly grateful to Paul for getting him the part, and the two began to develop a very amicable relationship on the set. In addition to a shared appreciation for each other’s craft, the two found that they had many other things in common. Those things included societal values, as well as their sense of humor.
After their time together filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Robert and Paul continued to develop their friendship off the screen. Several years after the release of the film, the pair reunited for another feature. That feature was 1973’s The Sting, which went on to become an even bigger hit than their prior feature was. Despite the fact that the pair remained great friends until Paul’s death several decades later, the two never filmed another movie together.
In between filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, Robert and Paul became neighbors. Paul already lived in Connecticut, and Robert moved out to the state to join him. The house that Robert bought was less than a mile away from his friend’s, which allowed the two to spend plenty of time together when the cameras weren’t rolling. It was during this period that the two actors became the incredibly close friends that we think of them as today.
Around the time that they started becoming close friends in Connecticut, Robert has recalled that Paul was a much different man than the audience might have expected based on his on-screen persona. While Paul Newman the actor was typically finely composed on the screen, he was a nervous and chatty person in real life that was constantly chewing on his fingernails and smoking cigarette after cigarette. According to Robert, Paul could always be found with a cigarette in his mouth and a beer in his hand around this period, though the actor later gave both habits up.
Besides their shared values and propensity for acting, Robert and Paul also shared a similar sense of humor. This resulted in the two constantly trying to one-up each other with silly pranks. One of the most notable series of pranks that the two were said to have perpetuated upon each other involved both a totaled Porsche and Paul’s 50th birthday.
The day that Paul Newman turned 50 years old, he woke up to a special surprise waiting for him outside on his back porch. As legend has it, Robert had bought him a totaled Porsche and had it wrapped in a bow and delivered to Paul’s house as a joke gift. Several weeks later, Robert came home from a hard day of work to find that there was a strange gift-wrapped box waiting for him in his home. When Robert tried to move the box, he found that it was far too heavy. As it turns out, Paul paid to have the joke car that Robert had gifted him compacted, nicely wrapped, and delivered to his close friend’s home. Robert had to call in some help to have the present removed, but he eventually got the better of his friend by having the compacted car transformed into an art installation piece in the yard of Paul’s mansion.
Part of the rules of the prank wars that Robert and Paul routinely engaged in was that neither party could ever bring up the pranks that the other enacted upon them. According to Robert, to speak about the pranks would’ve tarnished their comedic impact.
Many people have wondered why Robert Redford and Paul Newman never reunited on the screen after the massive success of 1973’s The Sting. Considering both the great friendship between the two stars and the potential profits such a reunion could’ve entailed, it seemed like making a third feature together would’ve been a no-brainer. Things never quite worked out that way, although there had been talks of the two reuniting shortly before Paul’s death.
The film that almost reconnected Robert and Paul on the screen eventually became 2015’s A Walk in the Woods. The film was based upon the 1998 novel of the same name by author Bill Bryson, which followed the author on an autobiographical journey through the wilderness as him and his friend attempted to hike the Appalachian Trial. Robert was cast in the film as the character of Bill, and he was attempting to get his friend Paul to portray Bill’s friend. For a while, it seemed like Paul was interested in taking on the role. However, he eventually decided to turn it down.
Robert was devastated when he learned that Paul wasn’t going to join him in A Walk in the Woods. By that point, the two hadn’t appeared on screen together in over three decades, and both actors were certainly nearing the later stages of their careers where time was growing limited. At the end of the day, Robert accepted that his friend wasn’t up to the challenge of reuniting on the screen, and the film was shelved for a period of time until another actor was found.
A Walk in the Woods was eventually released in 2015, with Nick Nolte cast in the role that Robert had intended for Paul to play. At the time that the film was released, Paul had already been dead for several years. Paul ended up passing away in September of 2008 from lung cancer. The actor was suffering from the illness for several years before passing away, which is party of why he didn’t think that he was up to the physical challenge that A Walk in the Woods was likely going to demand. Robert visited Paul as much as he could during his final years, though Paul was said to have only let family in towards his final days because he didn’t want even his closest friends to see how much he’d deteriorated.
When Paul no longer wanted Robert as a physical visitor by his bedside, the two continued to keep in touch through phones calls. Apparently, these phone calls were often very difficult for Robert, as he could hear his old friend getting worse and worse each day. Eventually, the battle against lung cancer became too much for Paul to deal with, and he passed way on September 26. At the time of the actor’s death, he was 83 years old- over a decade Robert’s senior.
After Paul eventually succumbed to his battle with lung cancer, Robert was devastated. However, he held himself together so that he could be there to help Paul’s wife and kids. Paul’s wife was Joanne Woodward, whom he had been married to since 1958. The actor had six adult children, all of whom Robert kept an eye on after Paul’s death. Joanne had begun suffering from Alzheimer’s disease before Paul’s death, which meant that Paul was incredibly worried about how she would be taken care of after he passed away. Thankfully, Robert was there to make sure the transition into life without Paul occurred smoothly for the elderly woman.
Since Paul’s death, Robert has taken every opportunity that he can to remind the world of his late friend’s impressive legacy. In Robert’s eyes, the two are still best friends, even though Paul has ascended into the upper planes. According to Robert, his friendship with Paul taught him a great many things that he might otherwise have never learned. Those things included humility, as well as compassion.
Robert never did forget about how much Paul had stuck his neck out for him when he was a relative unknown passionately testing for the role of the Sundance Kid. Thanks to Paul’s perseverance and his love of Robert’s craft, the film went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved Western films in history!
Robert continued acting for several years after his friend’s death, including in the aforementioned A Walk in the Woods. After a 2018 feature by the name of The Old Man & the Gun, Robert decided it was time to call it quits from acting and take it easy for the remainder of his twilight years. Though the actor has returned to the screen once or twice for the occasional easy cameo, he has effectively made good on his retirement. All things considered, Robert is likely looking forward to reuniting with his old friend once more.
Although Robert Redford and Paul Newman only made two films together, they made many more apart! Comment down below to share what your favorite performance from each other these legendary stars is, or if you were surprised to learn that they never reunited for a third team-up!