After his well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Boogie Nights (1997), Burt Reynolds (1936-2018) said:
”My being nominated this year is no comeback story because I simply refused to go away.”
In my teens in the early 1970s, I found him to be just too, too hot. He had that whole San Francisco clone look going, but without the brunch voice. Reynolds had an easy going, self-depreciating manner that made him perfect for light comedies, and he always delivered. He was wry and dry as a talk show guest, keeping up with the comedians on the sofa on The Tonight Show and breezily making Johnny Carson laugh. He killed at a roast.
With his thick moustache, and thicker chest hair, Reynolds was one of the biggest sex symbols of the 1970s. The Smokey And The Bandit (1977) star, was one of the decade’s highest paid actors and biggest studs, having affairs with women as different as Farrah Fawcett, Goldie Hawn, Miss America Tawny Little, Tammy Wynette, tennis great Chris Evert, Adrienne Barbeau, Dinah Shore, Lorna Luft, Catherine Deneuve, and World of Wonder friend Mamie Van Doren.
Reynolds was married to actor Judy Carne from 1963 to 1965, and to Loni Anderson from 1988 to 1993. Reynolds and Shore were in a relationship in the early 1970s for about five years. He had a relationship from about 1977 to 1982 with Sally Field. Today, Field tweeted that he was ”the one who got away”. Reynold often referred to her as the love of his life.
Despite all the babes, Reynolds was dogged by gay rumors, and was the subject of tabloid stories that he had AIDS. Reynolds in 2013:
”I was surprised a lot of women didn’t say: ‘Have you been tested, because you should be? ‘ I jumped from one to the other and I certainly could have handled those situations better. I was an asshole. When all the AIDS stuff came out I got swallowed up by everything. I made some stupid mistakes and I haven’t been the nicest guy in the world about keeping my mouth shut about women.”
After breaking his jaw while performing a stunt while filming City Heat (1984), he developed a painful joint problem which meant he couldn’t eat. He lost a lot of weight and, as a result of there were those rumors, and he lost a lot of friends, though friends like Elizabeth Taylor and Clint Eastwood stood by him. The painkillers he was prescribed led to addiction, which lasted for a decade. Reynolds underwent back surgery in 2009 and a quintuple heart bypass in February 2010.
Reynolds counted two talented gay men as very close friends: Charles Nelson Reilly and Michael Jeter.
”A lot of friends turned their backs. I also knew some people who had HIV/AIDS and I had a whole different kind of respect for them after what happened. I tried all I could to help them.”
Born in Michigan, he spent his teenage years in Florida, before moving to New York City in the 1950s make it was an actor in theatre before quickly getting signed by the Hollywood studios.
He had a fleeting friendship with Marilyn Monroe, already a huge star. Reynolds:
”I used to walk with her to the studio. I was a young kid; she was free and open and beautiful to me.”
He had hoped for a career as a pro football player, winning a scholarship to college because of his talent, but an injury ended that dream.
Reynolds was was compared with Marlon Brando as his career was taking off in the 1960s. He claimed that he grew his trademark moustache to avoid being mistaken for a Brando, a guy he didn’t like:
“He was so arrogant, and he had every right to be, he was on top of the mountain. The moustache? I thought would help. And it did.”
He began acting on television in the late 1950s, and made his film debut in Angel Baby (1961). Following a regular role in the television series Riverboat (1959-1961) he joined the cast of the long running Gunsmoke (1955-1975) as “halfbreed” blacksmith Quint Asper, and performed that role during severeral years. He used his television work to secure leading roles for low-budget films and played the title role in the spaghetti western Navajo Joe (1966), before returning to television as the lead in the police drama Dan August (1970–71). He later joked about the series, telling Johnny Carson:
“Dan August had two forms of expression: mean and meaner.”
He gained acting cred with the film Deliverance (1972) which many in the industry assumed would bring him an Oscar nomination. But, just before it came out, Reynolds felt he blew his chances by posing naked for Cosmopolitan. Reynolds:
“That image turned up everywhere. A group of us were in a motel and somebody said: ‘Come to my room and see this! ‘ So I did, and there I was, an image of me naked on a bearskin rug.”
He had an unprecedented string of hits in the 1970s and early 1980s: The Longest Yard (1974), Smokey And The Bandit (1977), Semi-Tough (1977), Hooper (1978), Smokey And The Bandit II (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981) and he sang and danced in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas (1982).
Smokey And The Bandit is a simple story of two smugglers, one in a truck and the other a sports car, trying to ship bootleg booze across county lines. Silly, huh? But it was second only to Star Wars at box office. Thanks to two sequels and his other 1970s hits, Reynolds was the top film star for five years starting in 1978.
After a bunch of box-office duds, Reynolds returned to television, starring in the delightful sitcom Evening Shade (1990–1994).
He married actor Loni Anderson in 1988, a costly divorce followed five years later. His career suffered, and it was only resuscitated when he starred in Boogie Nights.
He looked so frail in his recent appearance on television and he walked with cane. Reynolds told Stephen Colbert:
”I don’t fear dying. I just think of the luck I’ve had. I’d like my epitaph to be:
‘He had a hell of a good time and he was a good friend’.”
He also said:
”I have beautiful hair but it’s not mine (referring to his famous wig). When I die they’ll find this beautifully dressed man with this beautiful hair. They’ll say: ‘Well, he left a note- ‘Pass this to his brother, he needs it badly’.”
Reynold was taken by a heart attack today. he was 82-years-old
Ten Great Burt Reynolds Performances:
Smokey And The Bandit
The Longest Yard
Starting Over (1979)
Citizen Ruth (1996)
Breaking In (1989)
And my favorite: At Long Last Love (1975) because I like my Burt singing and dancing.