Burt Reynolds is an actor, producer, and director. He first appeared on the silver screen in 1961 and has since made almost 100 films and countless television series. Here he looks back on his legendary career. 

…my parents were the making of me

Dad was strong but Mum was the boss. He was a former colonel and became a chief of police when they moved to Florida after the war. Dad was my hero and I was always trying to please him

I developed this wild streak, though, and was always getting into trouble. I broke every rule I could and he came down on me like thunder. 

One night I was arrested for fighting and Dad let everyone go except me—and then threw every drunk he arrested on top of me. But if he hadn’t been so tough, I wouldn’t have achieved so much.

Like many men of that generation, he wasn’t demonstrative and never told me he loved me, although at the end of his life he finally said he was proud of me. That meant everything.

I loved it when my parents visited me on the set of my films. Dolly Parton flirted mercilessly with Dad when I did Best Little Whorehouse, which made him very happy! 

 

…Johnny Carson changed people’s perception of me

I was dogged by this reputation of the womanising tough guy and I hated it. People didn’t know I had a sense of humour, but that all changed after I started appearing on Tonight. I was the first actor to co-host and Johnny was the reason I got to do comedy in films.

I loved sending myself up and showing that I didn’t take myself seriously, and so did the audience. I’d say things like, “My movies are the kind they show in prisons or airplanes because nobody can leave.” It was the most fun I’ve ever had in front of a camera.

 

Burt Reynolds on the Tonight Show
Having shaved off half his moustache on the Tonight Show

 

…nearly dying while making Deliverance

It’s the best movie I’ve ever been in, although it nearly cost me my life.

I insisted on doing this stunt where I went over the falls. I got dragged under by whirlpool, which tore off my clothes and broke my sternum.

I started a lifelong friendship with Jon Voight on that movie. We’re complete opposites and yet we have this incredibly strong bond.

I was going to ask out one of his ex-girlfriends, whom I adored. They’d been together for a long time and then they broke up.

They’d been apart for a month or so when I thought I’d better ask him if it was OK to ask her out. He went ashen and said, “Burt, you can’t do that to me. I don’t want you to hurt her.” 

I was hurt that he said that, but I promised we wouldn’t date because our friendship meant more. 

 

…the worst decision of my career

Just before Deliverance came out, I made a terrible decision to do a naked centrefold for Cosmopolitan.

I’ve regretted that all my life because I think it damaged the movie and cost Jon and Ned Beatty Oscars for their performances.

 

Burt Reynolds and Jon Voigt
Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight mess around in the hotel pool during the filming of Deliverance. Image via Pinterest

 

…the worst time of my life

I broke my jaw on the set of City Heat with Clint Eastwood. I couldn’t eat and I lost loads of weight. There were vicious rumours going around that I had Aids.

I was treated like a leper in Hollywood—it was the most painful time of my life. But I found out who my real friends were, and I wasn’t surprised by who stuck by me.

 

…Making a personal mistake

I should have listened to my mum—she didn’t want me to marry Loni Anderson, but I’d gone so far as to arrange the wedding and I didn’t want to lose face.

I always thought she wore too much make-up, and although we had nice times, I’d be thinking, 'This isn’t the person for me'.

Why did I marry her? Besides the physical attraction, it was the force of her personality. Her determination. It was something she wanted and wouldn’t be denied.

 

burt reynolds remembers marrying Loni Anderson
With ex-wife Loni Anderson. Image via Vanity Fair

 

…the love of my life, Dinah Shore

I fell in love with her almost instantly the first time we met, when I was a guest on her show Dinah’s Place. We were soulmates… but my career was on fire and my ego was out of control.

My biggest regret is parting ways with her; it was so stupid of me. But I didn’t think it would work because of the age gap and I was wrong.

To this day it makes me sad, but at the same time, I was so lucky to have had someone like that in my life. She was so young of heart and spirit in every way. I’ve never found anyone like her since.

 

…Marlon Brando’s hatred of me

I did a TV show with his sister Jocelyn, who was a wonderful lady. One night she told me that Marlon hated me because I looked like him. I was young and frisky and had a sense of humour about myself, which he didn’t have.

I met him once and he was so rude, accusing me of trying to capitalise on looking like him. I was devastated, but I told him I wouldn’t have plastic surgery and promised him I wouldn’t get fat. That hurt him. Looking at me probably reminded him of the mess he’d become.

 

dinah shore burt reynolds
With the love of his life, Dinah Shore. Image via People

 

…my friendship with Bette Davis

I was scared stiff of her when we first met because of her formidable reputation. She was in her later years, but we became great pals.

Once we were at function together and some guy who was sitting in the row behind leaned over and asked her if I was her new conquest. She slapped him so hard you could hear it in the whole theatre. That made me feel wonderful.

There was a mutual attraction and if we’d been closer in age I may have become husband number five. I think we’d have made a go of it.

 

…being in Sinatra’s gang

If you got Frank Sinatra on side, and he liked you, he was a great friend. We first met when I took Dinah to dinner on Sunset Boulevard. And of course, he, Sammy Davis Jr and I worked together on Cannonball Run II. It was the last time I saw Frank. 

Over the years I saw him do things for people who never knew he’d done it. It’s a side the public never got to see. He’d read about someone having a hard time and call one of his guys over, give them hundreds of dollars in cash and say, “Don’t tell them it’s from me.”

Sammy Davis Jr was generous beyond belief. I once admired a painting that was on his wall. He ripped it off then and there and gave it to me. I never said I liked anything around him again.

 

Frank Sinatra
Burt Reynolds poses with Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra

 

…my comeback as a porn king

Boogie Nights resurrected my career and I was nominated for a best supporting actor Academy Award. But I admit that, at first, I tried my best not to do it and I kept turning the director down.

I thought glamorising pornography was terrible idea. 

 

…putting the record straight

Having a few scores to settle was part of the reason behind my book (But Enough About Me).

I don’t think I got it all in there, but I felt I had some things to say. It was very cathartic and I felt better after writing it.

 

Read the full feature in the August edition of Reader's Digest

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Feature image via Most Wanted/REX/Shutterstock

 

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