Barry Newman, Star of ‘Vanishing Point’ and ‘Petrocelli,’ Dies at 92

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Barry Newman, who propelled a supercharged Dodge Challenger across the American West in Vanishing Point and portrayed a defense attorney on the NBC series Petrocelli, has died. He was 92.

Newman died May 11 of natural causes at NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia University Irving Medical Center, his wife, Angela, told The Hollywood Reporter.

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After appearing on Broadway and starring in The Lawyer (1970), the Boston-born actor was up for a change of pace when he was offered the role of a man tasked with transporting a car from Denver to San Francisco in the action-packed Fox film Vanishing Point (1971), directed by Richard C. Sarafian.

“This was very unique,” he said. “I had just done this film about a lawyer, a Harvard graduate, and I thought this is a different kind of thing. The guy was the rebel, the antihero. I enjoyed doing that very much.”

Newman’s taciturn character, Kowalski, was a Vietnam veteran, former stock car driver and dishonorably discharged cop with nothing to lose. Amped up on amphetamines, he attempts to drive a white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum to his destination as fast as possible.

Vanishing Point was shot over eight weeks and has become an admired cult classic, with Steven Spielberg calling it one of his favorite movies.

Attorney Anthony Petrocelli was first introduced by Newman in The Lawyer in a story loosely based on the infamous 1954 case in which Cleveland neurosurgeon Sam Sheppard was initially convicted for the brutal bludgeoning murder of his wife.

Four years later, Newman returned as the maverick lawyer in the telefilm Night Games and then in the Arizona-set Petrocelli that ran for two seasons, from September 1974 through March 1976.

More recently, Newman showed up in such films as Sylvester Stallone-starring Daylight (1996), Bowfinger (1999), Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey (1999) and 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002).

Barry Foster Newman was born on Nov. 7, 1930. His father, Carl, managed the local outpost of the nightclub The Latin Quarter. He graduated from Boston Latin School and Brandeis University, played saxophone and clarinet in the U.S. Army band and studied acting with Lee Strasberg after chucking the idea of becoming an anthropologist.

In 1957, he made his Broadway debut playing a jazz musician in the Herman Wouk comedy Nature’s Way and a year later appeared with Alice Ghostley in Maybe Tuesday, written by Mel Tolkin and Lucille Kallen of Your Show of Shows fame.

Barry Newman in the 1971 film 'The Vanishing Point'
Barry Newman in 1971’s ‘Vanishing Point’

In 1964-65, while playing tough-guy assistant director Sheik Orsini opposite Steve Lawrence in the musical adaptation of Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run?, he also was portraying a young attorney on the CBS daytime drama The Edge of Night before getting fired after an argument with a director. (His character got sent off to a sanitarium.)

Newman had also appeared onstage in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, as a gangster in Pretty Boy Floyd (1960) and on such shows as The DefendersNaked City and Get Smart when he toplined The Lawyer, directed and co-written by Sidney J. Furie.

Vanishing Point didn’t create much of a stir in the U.S., but when it opened in London at the Leicester Square Theater, “people lined up around the block to see it,” he told Paul Rowlands in a 2019 interview. “In England, I was a hero, and in America, I was just a guy picking up his bags at the plane terminal!

“It opened again in America after playing Europe and people then started getting on to the film. It became a cult film without me even realizing it. To this day, I’m always being asked to talk about it somewhere.”

In 1972 releases, Newman starred in Fear Is the Key, which like Vanishing Point, also featured an exciting car chase, and the CIA thriller The Salzburg Connection.

His work also included turns in 1980’s King Crab and several other telefilms; the movies City on Fire (1979), Amy (1981) and Good Advice (2001); and the series L.A. LawMurder, She WroteThe Fall Guy and The O.C., where he played Professor Max Bloom.

Newman’s career was curtailed after he was diagnosed with vocal-cord cancer in 2007, but he recovered. More recently, he reunited with writer-director Furie to star in the independent film Finding Hannah (2022).

In addition to his wife — they were married twice and together since 1991 — survivors include his niece, author-journalist Judith Newman, and many nephews.

Newman “was a rock for so many people, whose spirit he lifted and allowed to be free,” his wife said. “He was truly a light for so many, with an incredible, hilarious sense of humor that lit everything and everyone up.”

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