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Burt Reynolds – Ladies Loved Him, Men Wanted to be Him

Nancy Bilyeau
(Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images)

The swaggering star who for much of his career seemed to be having as much fun making movies as audiences did watching them, died of cardiac arrest in his Florida home on September 6, 2018. He was 82.

Memories and tributes pour in from those who worked with Reynolds and were close to the actor, who was No. 1 at the box office for a time in the 1970s.

In his autobiography, he said, “I was Number One at the box office five years in a row, which I don’t think anybody has done since. In 1978, I had four movies at once playing nationwide. If I met you then, I’m sorry.”

Reynolds in April 2011. Photo by Photobra CC BY SA 3.0

Reynolds in April 2011. Photo by Photobra CC BY SA 3.0

Sally Field, who had a relationship with Reynolds for five years, said in a statement, “There are times in your life that are so indelible, they never fade away. They stay alive, even 40 years later. My years with Burt never leave my mind. He will be in my history and my heart, for as long as I live. Rest, Buddy.”

Sally Field in 2012. Photo by MingleMediaTVNetwork CC BY-SA 2.0

Sally Field in 2012. Photo by MingleMediaTVNetwork CC BY-SA 2.0

Reynolds said in interviews that Field was “the love of my life.” He married and divorced twice, to Judy Carne and to Loni Anderson.

“He was a trailblazer. He showed the way to transition from being an athlete to being the highest paid actor, and he always inspired me,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Reynolds and Loni Anderson at the 43rd Primetime Emmy Awards. Photo by Alan Light CC BY 2.0

Reynolds and Loni Anderson at the 43rd Primetime Emmy Awards. Photo by Alan Light CC BY 2.0

Singer Dolly Parton, who co-starred with Reynolds in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, posted a photo of them on the set and wrote, “You will always be my favorite sheriff, rest in peace, my little buddy. I will always love you, Dolly.”

Reynolds with the Citrus Queen at Garnet and Gold Football Game, Florida State University, 1963.

Reynolds with the Citrus Queen at Garnet and Gold Football Game, Florida State University, 1963.

Actor Patton Oswalt posted, “Burt Reynolds & Clint Eastwood were fired from GUNSMOKE & RAWHIDE at the same time. Burt was told he couldn’t act and Clint his neck was too skinny. In the parking lot, Burt said to Clint, ‘I dunno what you’re gonna do, but I’m gonna take acting lessons.’ ”

Photo of Burt Reynolds and John Williams from the Twilight Zone episode The Bard.

Photo of Burt Reynolds and John Williams from the Twilight Zone episode The Bard.

Many friends made affectionate remarks about Reynolds’ fame as a male sex symbol. He posed for the centerfold of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1972.

Ryan Reynolds tweeted “He did it first. And best. And naked.”

Reynolds may be best known for his hits like Smoky and the Bandit, The Longest Yard, Hooper, and Semi-Tough, but he came to serious attention in John Boorman’s 1972 thriller Deliverance, which cast Reynolds him as macho outdoorsman Lewis Medlock. Reynolds called it “by far” his best film.

Photo of the main cast for the television program Gunsmoke in 1963. From left Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty), James Arness (Matt Dillon), Milburn Stone (Doc Adams), and Burt Reynolds (Quint Asper).

Photo of the main cast for the television program Gunsmoke in 1963. From left Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty), James Arness (Matt Dillon), Milburn Stone (Doc Adams), and Burt Reynolds (Quint Asper).

“I thought maybe this film is more important in a lot of ways than we’ve given it credit for,” he said in an interview years later.

He took pride in doing his own stunts, including going over a waterfall in Deliverance. But in recent years, he said his health suffered because of it.

“I went over the falls in Deliverance and I hit a rock and cracked my tailbone,” Reynolds said in an interview. “I tell everyone I was a 31-year-old guy in great shape before I went over the falls.”

Publicity photo of Burt Reynolds from the television program Dan August.

Publicity photo of Burt Reynolds from the television program Dan August.

In a story in Business Insider published two years ago, Reynolds said he wished he let his longtime stuntman, Hal Needham, step in a few more times.

“When it’s cold and I’m limping around I think, ‘Why didn’t I let Hal make some money and I just sit down?’ ” Reynolds said. “But you can’t go back.”

In 1996, the year before he made an award-winning comeback in Boogie Nights, Reynolds declared bankruptcy.

Read another story from us: “Bohemian Rhapsody” – The Long Road to Freddie Mercury Hitting the Big Screen

He told Vanity Fair, “I’ve lost more money than is possible because I just haven’t watched it. I’ve still done well in terms of owning property and things like that. But I haven’t been somebody who’s been smart about his money. There are a couple of actors who are quite brilliant with the way they’ve handled their money… But they’re not very good actors.”


Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.