If your first memory of Burton Leon Reynolds is from the 1993 film Cop and a Half, then you’re probably too young to remember—or even realize—that Burt Reynolds was once Hollywood's biggest movie star. To put it in perspective: Every year from 1973 to 1984, Reynolds was listed as one of Quigley’s “Top 10 Money Makers,” and held the top spot on the annual poll from 1978 to 1982 (the only other person to boast a record five consecutive years at the top of the list is Bing Crosby, back in the 1940s).
After a serious knee injury and subsequent car accident ended a promising football career at Florida State University, Reynolds found his way into acting. He got his start in a series of television roles, including a regular gig on the western series Riverboat, then hit the big screen big time with his breakout role in John Boorman’s 1972 backwoods classic, Deliverance.
Reynolds followed Deliverance up with such hits as Smokey and The Bandit (a film Playboy called “the Gone with the Wind of good-ol’-boy movies”), Semi-Tough, The Cannonball Run, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Though he hit a bit of a rough patch for a few years, all of that changed when Reynolds agreed to star in Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 ode to pornography, which earned the actor a Golden Globe award, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, and one of the biggest comebacks of the decade. Here are 10 things you may not have known about the mustachioed Hollywood icon, who passed away on September 6, 2018 at the age of 82.
1. HE TURNED DOWN SOME MAJOR ROLES.
Over the course of a near-60-year career, one is bound to pass on some prime roles. And Reynolds turned down a lot, including (by his own admission in the video above) Han Solo in Star Wars, R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Edward Lewis in Pretty Woman, and John McClane in Die Hard. Although he doesn't regret that final one: “I don’t regret turning down anything Bruce Willis did,” Reynolds told Piers Morgan.
More notably, and perhaps more regrettably, Reynolds turned down a chance to play James Bond in 1969. As Reynolds explained it: “In my infinite wisdom, I said to [producer] Cubby Broccoli, ‘An American can’t play James Bond. It just can’t be done.’ And they really tried to talk me into it. It was a 10-minute discussion. Finally they left. Every night, I wake up in a cold sweat.”
The role Reynolds laments turning down the most, however, is a role that was written specifically with him in mind. When director James L. Brooks approached him about playing Garrett Breedlove in 1983’s Terms of Endearment, Reynolds balked, instead taking a role in Hal Needham’s Stroker Ace. “When it came time to choose between Terms and Stroker, I chose the latter because I felt I owed Hal more than I did Jim,” Reynolds explained (Needham also directed Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, and The Cannonball Run). “Nobody told me I could have probably done Terms and Universal would have waited until I was finished before making Stroker.” The role went to Jack Nicholson, who took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1984.
2. HE POSED NUDE IN A 1972 ISSUE OF COSMOPOLITAN.
It may be common knowledge that Burt Reynolds posed naked in Cosmopolitan. What may be less known is that he regretted that decision. “I’m very embarrassed by it,” Reynolds told Piers Morgan. Editor Helen Gurley Brown asked Reynolds to do the photo shoot after the two appeared together on The Tonight Show. “I thought it would be a kick,” Reynolds said. The issue came out only a short time before Deliverance was released in theaters and all 1.6 million copies of the magazine sold out.
Despite the popularity of the spread, Reynolds came to believe that it may have distracted from the critical reception of Deliverance. “I thought it cost some actors in Deliverance an Academy Award,” Reynolds told Morgan. “I think it cost Jon [Voight]. I think it cost Ned Beatty, who certainly deserved an Oscar nomination. I think it hurt me, too.”
3. HE TURNED DOWN HIS OSCAR-NOMINATED ROLE IN BOOGIE NIGHTS. SEVEN TIMES.
Paul Thomas Anderson was adamant that Burt Reynolds play iconoclastic porn producer Jack Horner in his 1997 masterpiece, Boogie Nights, despite Reynolds’s aversion to the material. Anderson asked seven times, and got seven passes from Reynolds. “One night—the eighth time—[Anderson] came to my hotel room,” Reynolds recalled. “And I said, ‘Look, you don’t get it.’ And I went a little berserk. And at the end of the tirade, he said, ‘If you can do that in the movie, you’ll get nominated for an Academy Award.’ And he was right.”
4. AN ON-SET STUNT CAUSED HIM A LIFE OF PAIN.
The 1980s weren’t always kind to Reynolds. "I can't believe I did all those bad films in a row until I looked at the list," he said. During the filming of 1984’s City Heat, Reynolds was struck in the face by a metal chair and shattered his jaw. He developed TMJ as a result of the injury and ended up losing 40 pounds due to his inability to eat solid food. The shocking weight loss fueled speculation that Reynolds had contracted AIDS, a rumor he spent years refuting. He also developed a severe drug dependency as a result of the chronic and debilitating pain he suffered from TMJ; at one point Reynolds was taking up to 50 Halcion sleeping pills a day.
Reynolds eventually kicked the pill addiction, but was not so lucky with the pain. He suffered daily from the decades-old injury for the rest of his life.
5. HE HAD AN IMPROMPTU PIE FIGHT WITH DOUBLE DARE HOST MARC SUMMERS ON THE TONIGHT SHOW.
Burt Reynolds had just finished up his segment as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1994 and had shifted over to make way for the next guest, TV show host Marc Summers (Double Dare, Unwrapped). Reynolds became visibly irritated with Summers for, ostensibly, turning his back on him while he was speaking to Leno. Summers then made the comment to Reynolds, “I’m still married, by the way.” This jab precipitated a water fight between the two combatants: Reynolds dumped his mug on Summers’s lap, Summers retaliated, so on and so forth. The donnybrook culminated in a rather violent pie fight followed by a very awkward hug.
“This was not a bit,” Summers explained. “I didn’t know what to expect. He was going through a divorce with Loni Anderson at the time and he was angry ... He hugged me and said, ‘I only did that because I really like you.’ You wait to get on The Tonight Show your whole life. You’re sitting next to Burt Reynolds. He drops water on your crotch, then you get into a pie fight!”
6. HE PISSED OFF ELMORE LEONARD.
Reynolds was a longtime admirer of writer Elmore Leonard. After reading Leonard’s novel, Stick, Reynolds decided that he wanted to direct and star in the film version. Things did not go well.
After watching Reynolds’s first cut of the film, the studio pushed back its release date and forced him to re-shoot the second half of the movie, much to the actor/director’s dismay. “I turned in my cut of the picture and truly thought I had made a good film,” Reynolds told the Los Angeles Times. “Word got back to me quickly that the [studio] wanted a few changes … I gave up on the film. I didn't fight them. I let them get the best of me.”
The biggest blow came from Elmore Leonard. "Leonard saw the film the day he was interviewed for a Newsweek cover and told them he hated it,” Reynolds shared. “After his comment, every critic attacked the film and he wouldn't talk to me. When I re-shot the film, I was just going through the motions. I'm not proud of what I did, but I take responsibility for my actions. All I can say—and this is not in way of a defense—is if you liked the first part of Stick, that's what I was trying to achieve throughout.”
7. HE DABBLED IN THE NIGHTCLUB BUSINESS.
Burt Reynolds’s foray into the booming 1970s nightclub business was a short-lived one. He opened Burt’s Place in the late 1970s at the Omni International Hotel in downtown Atlanta. The club’s most notable feature was a stained glass dance floor that featured a rendering of Burt’s face and the words, “Burt’s Joint”—which was odd, considering that wasn’t even the name of the establishment. Burt’s Place/Joint closed after a year.
8. MARLON BRANDO WAS NOT A FAN OF REYNOLDS.
Coming up in the movie business, Burt Reynolds was a huge Marlon Brando fan. Brando did not share the sentiment. When Reynolds was being considered for the role of Michael Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather, Brando adamantly declared that if Reynolds was given the role, he would remove himself from the project. The rest is history.
Brando later said about Reynolds, “He is the epitome of something that makes me want to throw up … He is the epitome of everything that is disgusting about the thespian … He worships at the temple of his own narcissism.” Ouch! To be fair, in the same conversation, Brando admitted that he had never even met Reynolds.
9. HE RELEASED AN ALBUM.
Hot off his success in Deliverance and his nude spread in Cosmo, a solo album seemed like the next, most Hollywood-appropriate course of action.
Reynolds released his debut record, “Ask Me What I Am,” in 1973 and somehow this gem seems to have evaded critics and fans alike. We do know that the album came with a double-sized poster of Reynolds in a blue jumpsuit and cowboy hat. You can listen to a track on YouTube, but if you must hear it in its entirety, it’s available on Amazon.
10. HE DIDN'T THINK DELIVERANCE COULD BE RE-MADE TODAY.
“They keep talking about a remake, but I don’t think you could find four actors crazy enough to do it,” Reynolds said. “Not by any stretch of the imagination were we white water experts. We’d quit for the day and come back and practice. We got to the point where we were more proficient, or at least we didn’t get tipped over all the time. I have to admit that, in spite of the danger, or maybe because of the danger, it was the most fun I ever had.”
Reynolds often said that Deliverance is the finest of all of his films.