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From Smokey and the Bandit to Boogie Nights... how Burt Reynolds famed for his moustache and rugged sex appeal became Hollywood's leading man

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 07/09/2018 Alison Boshoff for the Daily Mail
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With his mustachioed swagger, muscular physique and twinkling eyes, nobody could match Burt Reynolds for sheer rugged sex appeal.

Reynolds, who has died of a heart attack aged 82 after a long period of ill health, embodied the permissive mores of the pre-Aids era.

He dated the most dazzling beauties including Farrah Fawcett, Faye Dunaway, Sarah Miles, tennis star Chris Evert, Kim Basinger and Sally Field - whom he described as the ‘love of my life’.

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Legend had it that the only woman who turned him down was JFK’s widow Jackie.

His wise-cracking, carefree persona helped him to become one of the most famous, best-paid men in showbiz and his status as the globe’s premier sex symbol was cemented by a naked centrefold in Cosmopolitan in 1972.

A publishing first, it was so wildly popular that the issue sold out and had to be reprinted. Some 1.5 million copies were snapped up.

Reynolds, though, came to regret it as he feared that the ballyhoo over his hirsute frame cost the film Deliverance the recognition it deserved. The Jon Boorman film about a disastrous canoeing expedition into the Georgia backwoods, notorious for its ten-minute male rape scene, lost out to The Godfather for the best movie Oscar.

two men taking a selfie: Burt Reynolds pictured in Boogie Nights with a young Mark Wahlberg. He played a porn producer and was nominated for an Oscar © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Burt Reynolds pictured in Boogie Nights with a young Mark Wahlberg. He played a porn producer and was nominated for an Oscar

In his later years, broke and ill, he gamely kept working. He put out a memoir in 2015 and a biographical film swansong, The Last Movie Star, earlier this year.

 He is also set to appear in Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood - about the Charles Manson murders - as George Spahn, who rented his ranch to the ‘Manson Family’.

‘It’s not easy for us movie stars,’ he said in February this year. ‘It’s not all roses and lollipops.’ That much is true. His beloved home in Florida was sold by the bank, and much of his iconography was flogged off, too, to cover his debts.

The famous Pontiac Trans-Am car from hit 1977 film Smokey And The Bandit, along with his two Golden Globes, were sold in a 2014 auction, along the car used in The Cannonball Run last summer.

He had a quadruple heart bypass, overcame addiction to sleeping pills and painkillers, and endured pneumonia and plastic surgery in later life which wrecked those rugged good looks.

He was also been blighted by divorce, debts, and legal disputes.

Neighbours in Jupiter, Florida - where he was regarded as virtual royalty - said that in his final years Reynolds had become increasingly housebound.

Gallery: Burt Reynolds' best quotes on love, regret and drunk naked posing on a bearskin rug (USA Today)

He used to go for lunch almost daily at Jetty’s waterfront restaurant, wearing his gold Rolex watch and signet ring, and his trademark black cowboy boots. Every head would turn when he arrived.

(’May God forgive me,’ he once said, ‘but I love the attention of people.’) Two years ago, he was well enough to throw a big party for his 80th birthday - a Western-themed sit-down dinner for 50 people. Mostly though he lived very quietly with his pitbull, Precious, and a carer.

Indeed, in the final months he had become almost a recluse.

Burt Reynolds looking at the camera: Burt Reynolds dated the most dazzling beauties including Farrah Fawcett, Faye Dunaway, Sarah Miles, tennis star Chris Evert, Kim Basinger and Sally Field © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Burt Reynolds dated the most dazzling beauties including Farrah Fawcett, Faye Dunaway, Sarah Miles, tennis star Chris Evert, Kim Basinger and Sally Field

‘You wouldn’t know that he still lived here,’ a neighbour said last year. ‘I’ve not seen him in weeks. He just doesn’t come out.’

His girlfriend, Rhonda Stearns, 66, did make regular visits, however.

They met when she took the local acting class which he taught on Friday nights in Jupiter.

It was clear he had lost a great deal of weight. A close friend, Donna Carbone, said of his diminished appearance: ‘He is in a lot of pain. He has told me he can remember his films by the injuries he picked up while doing his own stunts. They have taken a toll on his body and he is paying for it now.’

One serious injury was sustained when shooting river rapids for the film Deliverance. He fell out of his canoe and broke his coccyx on the rocks.

a close up of Burt Reynolds: Burt Reynolds, pictured on March 2016 at the premiere of 'The Bandit' during the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Burt Reynolds, pictured on March 2016 at the premiere of 'The Bandit' during the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas

‘A 35-year-old guy who was in great shape went over the waterfall,’ he said. ‘The crew looked about half a mile downstream and this nude 80-year-old guy was crawling back.’

During a fight scene in the 1984 thriller City Heat, he was hit in the face with a metal chair - instead of the intended balsa wood prop - breaking his jaw.

It was this that led to a dependence on sleeping pills which nearly killed him. At one point he was taking 50 a day.

 Indeed, a series of disasters befell Burt Reynolds over the years, but the greatest of these surely came in the shapely form of actress Loni Anderson.

Of course there were hordes of women, many of them famous. ‘Women are my drugs and alcohol. When I’m involved with one woman, I’m involved with one woman. But between romances, I am carnivorous,’ he said.

Burt Reynolds, Loni Anderson are posing for a picture: Burt Reynolds with his wife at the time Loni Anderson. he fell for Loni Anderson, an apple-cheeked pin-up from Minnesota. They met on the set of the 1983 stock car film Stroker Ace - a box-office disaster which set the tone for the marriage © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Burt Reynolds with his wife at the time Loni Anderson. he fell for Loni Anderson, an apple-cheeked pin-up from Minnesota. They met on the set of the 1983 stock car film Stroker Ace - a box-office disaster which set the tone for the marriage

He was first married to the English actress Judy Carne. Carne became the Laugh In girl famous for the catchphrase ‘Sock it to me’. The two met on a plane in 1962. ‘The magic was immediate,’ she always said. ‘If we had been alone we would have made love there and then.’ After they divorced, Judy came out as bisexual.

Nearly 20 years later he fell for Loni Anderson, an apple-cheeked pin-up from Minnesota. They met on the set of the 1983 stock car film Stroker Ace - a box-office disaster which set the tone for the marriage.

By then, he had been world famous for a decade, with major hits in Deliverance, Smokey And The Bandit and The Cannonball Run, and had homes in Georgia, Malibu, North Carolina and Beverly Hills, a private jet, a helicopter, and 150 horses.

Even his collection of toupees was said to be worth $100,000. Smokey was even, with crowning unlikeliness, said to be director Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite film.

The marital Florida home in Hobe Sound boasted a cinema, boat dock, and private beach.

a man and a woman sitting on a motorcycle: Burt Reynolds pictured here with Ariel Winter filming a scene on the set of 'Dog Years' in Nashville, Tennessee on June 8, 2016 © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Burt Reynolds pictured here with Ariel Winter filming a scene on the set of 'Dog Years' in Nashville, Tennessee on June 8, 2016

 He called Loni his ‘Countess’, and she called him ‘Buddy Lee’. As Anderson remembers in her autobiography, he was ‘sweet, tentative and gentle’ and had a body like ‘a great god’.

However, his addiction to sleeping pills following the jaw injury was the start of problems in the relationship, not helped by his faltering career and his decision to take any job he was offered.

‘There are times when you can be artistic, and times when you have to be realistic,’ he explained.

To another interviewer he said: ‘I haven’t had a hit since Joan Collins was a virgin.’

In 1990, they adopted a son, Quinton, but by the time he and Anderson separated in 1993, Reynolds claimed that they had not had sex in three years. Both accused the other of infidelity.

Burt Reynolds, right, pinches the cheeks of comedian Dom Deluise during a roast of Reynolds in Atlanta © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Burt Reynolds, right, pinches the cheeks of comedian Dom Deluise during a roast of Reynolds in Atlanta

Anderson also alleged that Reynolds shoved her to the floor during one argument and then pulled out a gun saying: ‘Here, why don’t you kill yourself and do us all a favour?’

Reynolds countered that she was a promiscuous spendthrift – and a liar. On TV he challenged her to take a lie detector test.

 The divorce settlement hit Reynolds hard. Anderson walked away with £1.4 million, plus a holiday home and £10,000 a month to support their son.

To meet the payments, he took out the mortgage on the Florida house, on which he later defaulted.

The acrimonious split also cost him dear in terms of his public image.

Sally Field et al. posing for the camera: Burt Reynolds shares a scene with Sally Field share in Smokey and the Bandit III. The new movie was a sequel to Smokey and the Bandit in which the two also starred. © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Burt Reynolds shares a scene with Sally Field share in Smokey and the Bandit III. The new movie was a sequel to Smokey and the Bandit in which the two also starred.

To add to his woes, he had plastic surgery in the immediate aftermath of the divorce, a nose job and a brow lift that was unflattering and severe. Corrective surgery failed resulted in skin bunching over his cheekbones.

Reynolds also showed a flair for passing up roles in films which became huge.

He turned down Han Solo in Star Wars, John McClane in Die Hard (made famous by Bruce Willis) and Garrett Breedlove in Terms Of Endearment. Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for his performance in the role in Endearment, and Reynolds once said that was the worst mistake of his career.

 He also apparently declined the role played by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. Any one of these hits might have transformed his financial circumstances.

a person sitting on a bed: Actress and former wife to Actor Burt Reynolds from 1963 to1965 displays wedding images in Atlanta © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Actress and former wife to Actor Burt Reynolds from 1963 to1965 displays wedding images in Atlanta

In 1996 he filed for bankruptcy, saying that he owed £10 million and blaming bad business deals, such as owning a nightclub and a stock-car racing team, and a restaurant chain.

Reynolds eventually paid off his creditors, saying his father, ‘Big Burt’ Reynolds, a former police chief of Riviera Beach - a working-class Florida town where the actor grew up - urged him to do so before he died.

In the intervening years he had some professional success, including his sole Oscar nomination for his part as a porn director in Boogie Nights in 2000. But he disliked the film’s director so much that he punched him during an argument, and had no further part in promoting it.

In 2009, he put his beloved Florida home up for sale at £5.4 million, but was then forced to check into rehab after becoming dependent on prescription pain relief following back surgery earlier that year.

When he emerged, the housing market had crashed in the wake of the financial downturn and his house was worth only £1.5 million. It was then the bank repossessed it, claiming that he had not paid the mortgage since 2010, and put it on the market again.

Burt Reynolds et al. posing for the camera: Burt Reynolds and son Quinton during The Longest Yard Los Angeles Premiere © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Burt Reynolds and son Quinton during The Longest Yard Los Angeles Premiere

It sold for £2.3 million in 2015, but under the terms of the deal Reynolds had the option to stay living there until the end of this years.

Friend Mo Mustaine says his financial problems hurt him. ‘It changed him. It hurt his feelings real bad. And of course it embarrassed him more than anything else.’

In a 2015 interview given to promote his autobiography But Enough About Me, Reynolds denied being broke, but admitted to having blown a fortune.

He then appeared in The Last Movie Star, written and directed with Burt Reynolds in mind, by Adam Rifkin.

‘I wanted to juxtapose Burt Reynolds at this stage in his life with young Burt Reynolds and footage from his past,’ Rifkin said. ‘Because, no matter how confident we are in our youth, time has other plans, and time is not impressed with our youthful hubris. Time will always win in the end.’

At the film’s premiere, Reynolds ‘cried like a baby’, Rifkin said. ‘He said he’s very embarrassed to admit that, because you’re not supposed to cry at your own films, just like you’re not supposed to laugh at your own jokes. But he did, and he loved it.’

In his memoir, Reynolds wrote: ‘I always wanted to experience everything and go down swinging. Well, so far so good. I know I’m old but I feel young and there is one thing they can never take away: nobody has had more fun than I did.’

a person riding a horse: Burt Reynolds in Navajo Joe, In his later years, broke and ill, he gamely kept working. He put out a memoir in 2015 and a biographical film swansong, The Last Movie Star, earlier this year © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Burt Reynolds in Navajo Joe, In his later years, broke and ill, he gamely kept working. He put out a memoir in 2015 and a biographical film swansong, The Last Movie Star, earlier this year
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