I confess to an enduring love affair with many things American. First, I fell in love with my husband back in rainy old England over 20 years ago, and 10 years later I came to love this country.
So it makes me sad to see another American icon lost this week. Burt Reynolds died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 82. It seems to me that in many ways he encapsulated many of the American characteristics I admire and enjoy — the zest for life, the larger than- life persona, enthusiasm, a sense of humor and a real go-getting attitude that is quite different to the more reserved and cynical northern Europeans.
I was not aware of Reynolds while I was growing up in England, and I was definitely too young and innocent to be aware of his status as handsome sex symbol when he was featured as the first nude male centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1972, which is reported to have sold 1.5 million copies. Reynolds said in later years that he regretted his poor judgement in agreeing to pose for this controversial photograph, and he thought it cost his film “Deliverance” an Academy Award.
On the other side of the pond, my husband growing up in the 1960s and 1970s got used to seeingReynolds on TV as his parents tuned into Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Many Americans soon became fans of his tough guy persona in movies such as “Deliverance” and “The Longest Yard.”
I was introduced to these many years later, which coincided with Reynolds’ returning popularity with movies like “Boogie Nights” and “Drive” following the many years he spent working in TV as his movie career floundered in the 1980s. In fact, Reynolds is reported to have said that although he made around 100 movies, he was only proud of about five of them.
I think one of the most interesting things about Burt Reynolds is not the roles he played but the ones he turned down.
These included Han Solo in “Star Wars,” R.P. McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for this), Edward Lewis in “Pretty Woman,” John McClane in “Die Hard,” and Garrett Breedlove in 1983’s “Terms of Endearment” (Nicholson won an Oscar for this one,too). In 1969, Burt Reynolds also famously turned down the opportunity to play James Bond. Producer of the Bond franchise Cubby Broccoli tried hard to convince Reynolds, but Reynolds told him “An American can’t play James Bond. It just can’t bedone.” He also turned down the role of Jack Horner, the porn producer in “Boogie Nights” a full seven times before ultimately agreeing. He was nominated for an Oscar for it.
Although he was undeniably handsome with his trademark mustache and former footballer’s build, he did not find long lasting happiness in his relationships, as both of his marriages ending in divorce. His first brief experiment with matrimony was with Judy Carne of “Laugh-In” fame from 1963-65, which ended in a bitter divorce and was followed bizarrely by his interviewing her when he was a guest host on “The Tonight Show” in the early 1970s. His second marriage to glamorous actress Loni Anderson lasted six years until 1994.They have a son together, Quinton, who works in film production.
In his autobiography, Reynolds said that actressSally Fields was the love of his life, although it is believed that she refused his many proposals of marriage. Having met on the set of their film “Smokey and the Bandit” in 1977, the two swiftly began dating. They went on to star in four films together and dated for nearly five years before calling it quits.
Reynolds was known to have a great sense of humor, so I will leave you with a quote from the star himself who joked, “My movies were the kind they show in prisons and airplanes, because nobody can leave.”
God bless America, and rest in peace, Bandit!