"We’re only here for a little while, and you’ve got to have some fun, right? I don’t take myself seriously, and I think the ones that do, there’s some sickness with people like that."
There was a time when Burt Reynolds was one of the biggest stars in the world. He was an action star, a leading man, and an Oscar-nominated thespian. While his career certainly saw its downs as well as ups, there’s no denying that Reynolds’ work in film and television has formed a memorable legacy. With his passing, we are able to look back on a life which saw a number of fascinating adventures and anecdotes behind the classics which he made. We’ve provided a small selection of facts here for your viewing pleasure, in honor of a true movie star.
When you’re a major movie star, you’re offered a huge number of projects, and sometimes you turn down roles which later shoot other people to super-stardom. In Reynolds’ case, however, it’s rather astonishing how many famous roles he turned away. Among them include the role of Han Solo, Edward Lewis from Pretty Woman, and John McClane from Die Hard!
Of course, while some actors might be intensely bitter and remorseful for missing out on an iconic role, Reynolds wasn’t regretful at all for passing on the chance to be John McClane. In an interview with Piers Morgan, Reynolds joked “I don’t regret turning down anything Bruce Willis did.” Ouch…
Interestingly, despite his later success in Hollywood, Reynolds had had no interest in being an actor when he was growing up. Reynolds’ eye was solely towards football, and to give him credit, he was really talented at it. After being named First Team All State, he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts. Sadly, his career was nipped in the bud thanks to a serious injury he sustained soon after.
After his football career was over before it really began, Reynolds was forced to think of another way he could make a living. One of these possible career choices was following his father into the police force. To be fair, we know he would have been well adept at high-speed chases!
Reynolds’ second great calling came thanks to a particularly generous drama teacher named Watson B. Duncan. While Reynolds was in college, he was encouraged to read some Shakespearean text. Duncan was so impressed that he cast Reynolds as the lead role in his play. Reynolds later called Duncan the most influential person in his life.
In typical movie star fashion, Reynolds was once asked which film he considered to be his best. Reynolds went with Deliverance, which some might remember as the film where a hillbilly makes Ned Beatty squeal like a pig (among other things) before being shot by an arrow fired by Reynolds. Cue the banjo...
When Reynolds’ movie career faded during the 1980s and 1990s, he managed to find steady work in the comedy series Evening Shade, where he portrayed a retired football player who used to play for the Steelers (Reynolds himself was a big fan of the Steelers). In fact, Reynolds later declared that working on Evening Shade was the most fun he ever had in his acting career.
The first play in which Reynolds acted was called Outward Bound, produced by Professor Duncan (insert snickers from Community fans reading this article). Reynolds was so impressive that he won the 1956 Florida State Drama Award, which included a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse in New York City, and the rest is history.
Reynolds was famously nominated for an Academy Award for the film Boogie Nights, where he plays a well-known porn producer named Jack Horner. Despite the acclaim he received for this role, Reynolds was staunchly against being in the film. He turned it down no fewer than seven times!
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You might be wondering how Paul Thomas Anderson managed to persuade Reynolds to act in Boogie Nights after seven rejections. Reportedly, Anderson approached Reynolds in a hotel room to ask him an eighth time. By this time, of course, Reynolds was furious, and in his own words, he “went a little berserk.” Rather than be cowed by Reynolds’ rage, however, Anderson told him “If you can do that in the movie, you’ll get nominated for an Academy Award.”
One of Reynolds’ very first auditions was for the film Sayonara starring Marlon Brando. However, Reynolds was rejected from appearing in the film because it was determined he looked too much like Brando (which seems like a very mixed bit of criticism, given how handsome Brando and Reynolds both were back then).
During the 1970s, Reynolds was also a nightclub owner. Going by the slightly predictable name of “Burt’s Place,” the nightclub was located in Omni International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia.
Despite their similar appearances (or maybe because of them?) Marlon Brando and Burt Reynolds weren’t close. In fact, when Burt Reynolds was considered to take the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Brando threatened to leave the project. While you’d hardly find a movie fan out there who said Reynolds would have been better than Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, Brando went one step further later on by publicly insulting Reynolds personally, all without having ever met the man. Tell us how you really feel there, Marlon!
Although Reynolds went along with Boogie Nights, he had a very difficult time during production, frequently clashing with director Paul Thomas Anderson. Reynolds was reportedly so furious with the final cut of the film that he fired his agent for ever letting him do the project. This was before the praise came rolling in for Reynolds’ performance, so maybe the firing was a bit premature?
The positive response to Boogie Nights didn’t improve things between Reynolds and Anderson for long, however. Anderson managed to persuade Reynolds to embark on a radio promotion of the film (this was in the '90s, when a radio tour was still a big deal). They continued to clash on the tour, with Reynolds even attempting to punch Anderson on one alleged occasion. Amazingly, Anderson asked him to act in his next film (which became the Oscar-nominated Magnolia) but Reynolds refused, presumably asking Anderson if he was serious.
The Reynolds-Brando feud was resurrected in a rather unexpected way. Both men were nominated for Worst Supporting Actor at the 1997 Razzie Awards (Reynolds for Striptease, Brando for The Island of Dr. Moreau). After a single vote tipped the scale, Brando “won” over Reynolds, who was doubtless brokenhearted to lose to Brando again.
Reportedly, Reynolds’ likeness was an inspiration for Alan Moore when he created the character of Edward Blake (otherwise known The Comedian) in his classic graphic novel Watchmen.
Early on in Reynolds’ career, he was working on the 1959 film Riverboat. It just so happened that Reynolds was working in the same studio lot where his hero, Spencer Tracy, was working on his future 1960 classic Inherit the Wind. Tracy and Reynolds would even meet up between their respective productions and talk sports.
While Reynolds was playing football for Florida State University, he was roommates and good friends with none other than ESPN sports host Lee Corso, who also played for the Seminoles. Reynolds later described Corso as being the funniest guy on the team, while Corso later joked that his being friends with the handsome Reynolds back then made for the perfect wingman situation at parties—what most of us wouldn't give to have Burt Freaking Reynolds as our wingmen!
In 1993 Reynolds acted in the film The Man from Left Field, alongside actress and country star Reba McEntire. The two of them remained close friends for the rest of Reynolds’ life.
While there’s no doubt that Reynolds could act, it was believed for a while that he could also sing, which led to several musical endeavors on his part (including the role of Charlie in All Dogs Go to Heaven). In 1973, however, Reynolds went one step further by releasing a solo country album called Ask Me What I Am. Safe to say, it didn’t do as well as his movies did (though in many of the later cases, one could argue that the album actually did better than his movies).
After John Boorman directed Reynolds in Deliverance, he offered Reynolds the lead for his next film, Zardoz. Reynolds actually agreed, but he became ill and was forced to bow out. Sean Connery got the role instead, but based on how Connery looked in that film, we’re sure Reynolds didn’t lose any sleep over missing out on the part!
Reynolds was only the second man to make the cover of Playboy, which he did for the October 1979 issue. In case you’re curious, the first man to do so was Peter Sellers.
Interestingly, three of his films—Smokey and the Bandit, The Mean Machine, and Deliverance—all earned nominations for Best Editing at the Academy Awards. We can't exactly credit that to Reynolds, but hey, it's something.
One of the biggest films of Reynolds’ career was Smokey and the Bandit, the 1977 action-comedy about bootleggers and patrolmen squaring off while racing their cars across the US. The film was actually so big that it was the second-highest grossing film of its year. The only film which surpassed Smokey and the Bandit’s success was Star Wars!
After working with character actor Dom DeLuise in several films, they played friends in Don Bluth’s 1989 animated film All Dogs Go to Heaven. While voiceovers are normally done individually, Reynolds and DeLuise recorded their dialogue together. In fact, their camaraderie was so strong that Reynolds requested that Bluth left them alone in the studio, so they could improvise and ad-lib during the recording. Bluth later acknowledged that the ad-libs “were often better than the original script.”
According to Reynolds, the role he most regretted turning down was Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment. James L. Brooks had written the part specifically for Reynolds to play, but at the time, Reynolds was also offered a role in Hal Needham’s Stroker Ace. Because Needham had directed Reynolds in some of his biggest hits such as Smokey and the Bandit, he felt he owed it to Needham to act in his film. Reynolds later ruefully reflected that he could have done both films, since the studios would certainly have been willing to wait on his schedule to clear up (given his big name at the time). Instead, Jack Nicholson took the part of Breedlove, and Terms of Endearment became a huge box office hit, winning five Oscars, including one for Nicholson.
Reynolds was a big fan of Elmore Leonard’s novel Stick. Since it was the early 1980s, and Reynolds was still riding high in Hollywood, he snapped up the movie rights to Stick with the intention of directing and starring in the adaptation.
Unfortunately for Reynolds, the studio had quite a few criticisms when he presented his final cut to them for viewing. In fact, they pushed back the release date so that Reynolds could go and re-shoot the second half of the movie. Reynolds was so devastated by this demand that he didn’t have the heart to fight back. In his own words, he “was just going through the motions” during the re-shoots. To add insult to injury, the final version released to theatres failed to impress the original writer, Elmore Leonard. In fact, he openly declared that he hated the adaptation, which hit Reynolds especially hard.
It’s safe to say that the most famous picture of Reynolds is his nude pose for Cosmopolitan. Done in 1972 at the height of his fame, his image caused all 1.6 million copies of the magazine to sell out. Ironically, Reynolds himself lived to become “very embarrassed” by the picture.
Before he became a movie star, Reynolds was working as a dockworker when the producers of a live television show offered him $150 to jump through a glass window! No word on whether he accepted that offer or not, sadly.
In 1997, Reynolds co-wrote a children’s book. It was titled Barkley Unleashed: A Pirate’s Tail and was described as a “whimsical tale [that] illustrates the importance of perseverance, the wonders of friendship and the power of imagination.”
Despite the financial success of the cross-country racing film Cannonball Run, as well as its all-star cast, Reynolds ultimately disliked the final product. He later claimed that he only did the film for the money, as well as helping out his friend, director Hal Needham.
Amazingly, one of the roles offered to Reynolds when he was at his most famous was none other than James Bond! Of course, Reynolds himself was aware that “An American can’t play James Bond," which is exactly what he said to the producer of James Bond when he was offered the part.
In the continued tradition of Reynolds’ career in acting coupled with his love for football, Reynolds starred in the 1974 sports comedy The Longest Yard. The film was highly praised and did brisk business at the box office, which meant it was eventually remade in 2005… starring Adam Sandler. Reynolds even came back for that film, in a supporting role. The remake was a modest hit, but the reviews were far more negative than they were for the original.
One source of constant anger to Reynolds was the National Enquirer, a major gossip magazine which we imagine has frustrated quite a few celebrities over the years. Reynolds ultimately got an especially nasty revenge thanks to a tradition which the Enquirer’s owner maintained from 1972 until 1988. A huge Christmas tree was put up in front of the National Enquirer’s headquarters; its immense size and number of decorations was so impressive that it even became a minor tourist location. Reynolds, who happened to own several horses, rented a helicopter and flew it over the Enquirer’s Christmas tree. Once he was flying right over the tree, he covered it with horse manure, which he’d carried along in a large net!
During the filming of Deliverance, Reynolds had to film a scene which involved his character going over a 25-foot waterfall in a canoe (the movie’s pretty intense). Reynolds decided to do the stunt himself, and per his own recollection, he struck a rock when he went over the falls and plunged into a miniature whirlpool which formed amongst the rapids. Luckily, he had been given instructions on what to do in this situation, and he made his way to the bottom. The whirlpool proceeded to literally project him out!
There were, sadly, two downsides to this miraculous story of shooting out of the whirlpool after going over a waterfall. Reynolds sustained several injuries, including one to his tailbone which never fully recovered. Additionally, the force of water which shot him to safety also stripped him completely naked! Though to be fair, no amount of public embarrassment could take away from a story which involves surviving a 25-foot waterfall AND a whirlpool at the bottom!
If you’ve ever wondered whether Reynolds’ onscreen reputation for being reckless and adventurous was fake, keep in mind that when he was growing up in Florida, he had a rather astonishing hobby: Reynolds would regularly jump from a moving vehicle and land on the back of deer for other wild animals which were big enough to carry him (we hope).
In 1984, Reynolds was acting in the film City Heat when he was struck across the face with a chair. Not only did he suffer a broken jaw, he also lost 40 pounds after being virtually unable to chew his food due to the ensuing condition called temporomandibular disorder, or TMJ for short.
This jaw pain caused Reynolds to develop an addiction to painkillers and other pills. It was reported that Reynolds’ addiction became such that he took 50 Halcyon pills per day! Thankfully, with the support of his friends and family, he did manage to curb this intake and keep his pill intake in check, though he continued to suffer from TMJ for the rest of his life.
Reynolds became known for his multiple relationships and particularly nasty break-ups, but according to him, the love of his life was actress Sally Field. They had a relationship which lasted years, but Field refused to marry him several times, leading to the relationship eventually ending.
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