Sadly, this week we note the passing of another legendary figure in our cultural history. Actor Burt Reynolds passed away yesterday in Jupiter, Florida at the age of 82.
Reynolds could always be counted on to give a good performance. In everyday life, he was much like the two-fisted, hard-living characters he portrayed in his films. He was born in Michigan, the son of a police chief. When Reynolds was 5, his father joined the Army and served in Europe with distinction during WW2. During that time, his family lived at Ft. Leonard Wood. In 1946, the elder Reynolds returned to civilian life and took the police chief's job in Riviera Beach, Florida.
In high school, Burt Reynolds was a good student and a star athlete. He played fullback on the school football team and was offered a few college scholarships. During his sophomore year at Palm Beach High, he made the All-Florida team. He eventually became an All-Southern player. Reynolds chose to play for the Florida State Seminoles, but lasted only two seasons due to injuries.
After leaving school, he thought to follow his father's footsteps in law enforcement. While studying at the nearby community college, an English professor recognized his dramatic talent and urged him to audition for a play in which the professor was involved. Reynolds accepted and won the lead role. He ended by winning the 1956 Florida State Drama Award. He had achieved all of these academic and athletic accolades by the time that he was 20.
It's apparent from his early history that Burt Reynolds was an outstanding individual. It's also a little-known, but commendable feature of his character that he was quite modest. Unlike many in his position, Burt Reynolds was never a 'diva' nor did he lose touch with the average fellow. He stated in his autobiography that the aforementioned English professor was the most influential person in his life. But a more objective assessment reveals that he was the product of a good father. The advantages a boy has with a good and supportive father are incalculable---despite the fact that our culture today denigrates and depreciates fatherhood at every turn.
Reynolds' teacher encouraged him to audition in Hollywood. At first, Reynolds was reluctant---until he was introduced to actress Joanne Woodward. It didn't take a good red-blooded man like Burt Reynolds long to notice the female population of metro Los Angeles. And Miss Woodward took a liking to him too---and one thing led to another. Throughout his life, his girlfriends---most of whom he engaged with long-term---incited considerable envy from his foes and admiration from his friends. In the span of 30 years, he loved Joanne Woodward, Judy Carne, Dinah Shore, and Sally Field before he finally settled down with 1980's model/actress Loni Anderson. He also was known to have dated Adrienne Barbeau, Chris Everett, Tammy Wynette, Luci Arnaz, and former Miss America, Tawny Little. That's an impressive list by anyone's standards.
Reynolds landed supporting roles in early TV series, Riverboat and Gunsmoke. In 1966, he starred in a one-season show, Hawk. In that series, Reynolds played an American Indian. He always had a fascination with Indian lore and culture and believed that he may have Indian blood himself, though this has never been proven. Films I best remember Reynolds in were Armored Command, Operation CIA, Navajo Joe, Impasse, Deliverance, White Lightning, The Longest Yard, Gator, Hustle, Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, Cannonball Run, Sharkey's Machine, Stroker Ace, and Malone. He starred in another brief TV series during the early 1970's, Dan August. The show's ratings were not that good despite a very loyal fan base and an Emmy Award. Reynolds was also a regular guest on The American Sportsman, a 1960's hunting/fishing show.
Hunting and fishing weren't Reynolds' only hobbies. He was also a race-car driver and owned a NASCAR franchise. He also was part-owner of a USFL team, the Tampa Bay Bandits. He stated that he chose the team's name based on his performances in the Smokey and the Bandit series.
It's hard not to admire a guy like that. He always did what he loved, did it with gusto, and did it well. That's the way we should be living, whatever our station in life.