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 turns 82 today.
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 has 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 explains 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 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!”
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. HE DOESN’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 has often said that Deliverance is the finest of all of his films.
6. BURT’S SPORTY PAST
Reynolds ended up playing fullback for his school from 1954 to 1957. During his his junior year, he suffered quite a few injuries that forced him to quit the game. He did, however, get to practice his football skills when he was cast in the 1974 film The Longest Yard (no, not the later film which starred Adam Sandler) where he played a professional quarterback. After he quit football, following his father’s advise, the young Reynolds became a parole officer.
7. TURNING DOWN BIG ROLES
There are two big roles that Reynolds turned down during his career that we have a feeling he probably regrets. One was the role of Han Solo in the popular Star Wars film (which ended up going to Harrison Ford). The second role was of 007 agent Mr. James Bond after Sean Connery, the legendary agent, stepped away from it. In fact, Reynolds turned it down because he didn’t believe an American could pull it off.
8. DATING A TENNIS STAR
The former heartthrob was a ladies man going back to his early acting days. Everyone wanted to date him, or at least be around him. Perhaps due to his love of sports, Burt wanted to experience what it would be like to date a woman from that part of the world. He famously dated professional tennis player Chris Evert. The tennis star who’s been married three times in the past has dated many men in her life, but she never dated anyone like Burt Reynolds. Evert said, ‘If Burt likes you, he really takes good care of you. Successful women aren’t a threat to him, and I think that’s what attracted me to him.’
9. THE LOVE SHORE
Dinah Shore was Hollywood’s golden girl back in the ’40s. Shore had a successful music career as well as an acting one. Dinah, who was 20 years Burt’s senior, met the actor in 1970 when the two were guest stars on a talk show. Burt was 35 years old at the time. On his relationship with Dinah, Reynolds once said: “I’d never met anyone like her. I realized there was a big age gap between us but it didn’t make the slightest difference. I was already in love with her.” The two ended up breaking up after four years together because Dinah couldn’t give Burt the one thing he wanted the most: children.
10. A MUSICAL CAREER
Reynolds was a man of many talents and apart from his rich acting career, his modeling and sports career, he was also an aspiring singer. In 1973, the actor released his debut album titled Ask Me What I Am. The album did surprisingly well. As part of its promotion, a double-sized poster of the actor-turned-singer appearing in his famous jumpsuit and a cowboy hat were created for his many adoring fans.