Burt Reynolds turns 80 today. Here’s a look at the star’s action-packed life in his own words.
America’s favorite good ol’ boy is, at age 80, America’s favorite good oldest boy. It’s time to write the book on Burt Reynolds—or it would be, if he hadn’t written it himself. But Enough About Me: A Memoir (co-written with Jon Winokur) is a breezy grab bag of anecdotes from his eventful life, told with the wit and candor that made him a top star in the 70s. “All you really have in the end are your stories,” he says. Using a few quotes straight from the actor’s mouth (and pen), let’s speed down memory lane with the star of Smokey and the Bandit and many hit movies.
“You’re not a man until your father says you’re a man.”
Lansing, Michigan-born Reynolds loved his “tough” mother, Fern. “She had rules and you obeyed them, but she also encouraged me to read, and I became much more in touch with my imagination and emotions as a result,” he told The Wall Street Journal. But “Big Burt,” his dad, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was later the chief of police of Riviera Beach, Florida, was more complicated, a “great man” who was “judgmental” and “could be cruel.” Reynolds (a junior) recalled that when he died in 2002, at age 95, “He never said he loved me, but he did finally say that he was proud of me. And that was enough.”
“Florida is a very healing place.”
“Buddy,” as friends and neighbors called him, had a stellar career in high school and Florida State football until injuries sidelined him his sophomore year. Once the acting bug bit (thanks to Palm Beach Junior College professor Watson B. Duncan III, “my first and greatest mentor”) he was off to New York, then Hollywood. But Florida’s never left him. His first movie, Angel Baby (1961), was shot there (“George Hamilton beat me up in the film,” he said. “Does that tell you anything?”), he invited co-stars and buddies like Charles Nelson Reilly, Marilu Henner, and Ned Beatty to appear in productions at his dinner theater in Jupiter, Florida, and he lives there today, just 13 miles from Riviera Beach—not in the trailer park of his boyhood, but in a 3.4-acre estate in Palm Beach County he calls “Valhalla.”
“Marriage is about the most expensive way for the average man to get laundry done.”
Reynolds is not the average man, and it’s highly unlikely his two exes, Judy Carne (1963-1965) and Loni Anderson (1988-1993), ever did his laundry. But they were costly. After her heyday on TV’s Laugh-In ended, Carne fed her spiraling drug addiction by selling stories about him to the tabloids, Reynolds writes, sadly. (She died last year.)
Reynolds hated the National Enquirer so much he once hired a helicopter to dump horse manure on its offices. But the scandal sheet only hinted at the excesses within Valhalla when “The Countess,” as Reynolds calls Anderson, held sway there. Sample: He gave her an American Express Platinum Card early in their marriage, and she maxed out its $45,000 limit in 30 minutes. (He says—the wounds are still raw.) Anderson was one of many poor investments that have dogged his life since his salad days, when he earned $10 million a year, ended. (Their adopted son, Quinton, was a plus.)
But other women yielded dividends. Reynolds rewarded Joanne Woodward for her early encouragement with a part in one of the best films he directed, The End (1978). Singer and TV talk show hostess Dinah Shore, 20 years his senior, was one of the great loves of his life. Sally Field disliked the four movies they made together, including the wildly popular Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and its 1980 sequel, but they were a good pairing offscreen, and he advised her to take the part that won Field her first Oscar, in Norma Rae (1979).
“My movies were the kind they show in prisons and airplanes, because nobody can leave.”
So said Reynolds on one of his 100 or so self-deprecating appearances on The Tonight Show, where he was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite guests and guest hosts. It’s true that the car crash jamborees he made from 1978 to 1982, when he was Hollywood’s biggest star (a five-year ranking no actor has matched since), pleased audiences more than critics. But Deliverance (1972) is a classic, The Longest Yard (1974) a great football and prison movie, Starting Over (1979), a comedy-drama about divorce that shows his sensitive side, and more action-packed credits like White Lightning (1973), Hustle (1975), Semi-Tough (1977), Hooper (1978), his own Sharky’s Machine (1981), and Malone (1987) deliver the goods. When it wasn’t a Cannonball Run (1981), it was a decent run.
“There are no awards in Hollywood for being an idiot.”
Ego and career pressures ended his relationships with Shore and Field, Reynolds laments. He lived too large and too publicly, did a nude spread for Cosmopolitan that he thinks hurt Deliverance’s Oscar chances, and spent years fighting AIDS rumors when an injury suffered making City Heat (1984) damaged his health. “There are three stages of an actor’s career—young, old, and ‘you look good,’” he noted. A 1991 Emmy for the TV show Evening Shade and a comeback Oscar nomination for Boogie Nights (1997), where in a daring change of pace he played an avuncular porn producer, should have rekindled interest. But the 60-year-old actor clashed with 27-year-old writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. “He just isn’t my kind of director,” Reynolds writes, adding, “I’ve never sat down and watched the whole thing.” The good parts never returned.
The pictures have gotten smaller, yet Burt Reynolds still has big amounts of irrepressible charisma. “If you hang onto something long enough, it will come back in style,” he says. “Like me.”