Burt Reynolds: It was a crazy time, but wonderful
He's loved and lost and seen great fortune come and go, but that leading man charm is still going strong. Burt Reynolds talks Hollywood highs and lows with Hannah Stephenson
IT'S hardly surprising that Burt Reynolds looks a little more frail today than he did 35 years ago, when he was the US box office number one star and an international macho heart-throb.
At 79, having broken countless bones due to doing most of his own stunt work over the years, he walks with a stick, wears red-tinted glasses and admits he is in pain all the time – but that doesn't deter his spirit, or sharp, often self-deprecating, sense of humour.
The star of Boogie Nights, Deliverance, Smokey And The Bandit, The Cannonball Run and Hooper does, however, have a full head of salt and pepper hair – yes, we all know it's a toupee, he's made no secret of it over the years – and hasn't ruled out further cosmetic embellishments.
"I don't worry about getting older. Whatever they've got, I'll take it. I haven't had cosmetic surgery yet but I may have to, I suppose," he says wryly.
"The problem is that there are no secrets now, no matter what you do. They would offer me a tremendous amount of money if they could photograph the operations. Of course, I wouldn't do that."
We meet to discuss his memoir, But Enough About Me, which charts his life from wild child to maverick, muscle-bound movie star, his downfalls, relationships, costly divorce, bankruptcy and numerous reinventions.
It's difficult to believe that someone who has earned millions over the years could find himself in financial dire straits just a few years ago.
Indeed, for five consecutive years from 1978-82, Reynolds was the number one US box office star – which is still a record – commanding huge fees (his $5 million for The Cannonball Run reportedly set a record at the time).
"It was a crazy time, but wonderful," he recalls. "I was busy doing some good work and some bad. I knew it had to end, but I didn't know how long I'd have."
He says he lost all sense of reality during those heady days.
"It was a time when everybody wanted to be your friend and give you something. It's strange that when you are making a lot of money, people want to give you a car. Then when you're flat, nobody wants to give you anything."
For a long time, he chose films based on locations and leading ladies.
His judgment was often misplaced, he admits – Reynolds turned down numerous roles, including James Bond, when Sean Connery held out for more money, and Han Solo (as played by Harrison Ford) in one of the Star Wars sequels.
"I wasn't interested in challenging myself as an actor, I was interested in having a good time. I chose Sally Field as my leading lady [for Smokey And The Bandit]. They said, 'She's not sexy', but I said, 'Talent is sexy'."
They fell in love while making the film and were together on and off for five years. He says their split is his biggest regret. They haven't been in touch since they broke up.
"If I were to see her now, I'd tell her how proud of her I am."
Field has so far declined to comment on all the lovely things Reynolds has said about her in the book.
"I'm sorry that she didn't find it at least flattering, but I'm not surprised," he says, smiling.
"She's a very private person and didn't want to be in the middle of some big thing."
He still regularly sees fellow actor and long-term friend Jon Voight, whom he met on the set of Deliverance.
Voight has written the foreword to the book and they obviously have deep affection for one another.
Reynolds lives in Florida, the state where he grew up, the son of a police chief.
He spent his childhood in Riviera Beach, the Everglades his back yard, and was originally destined for a sporting career when he won a football scholarship at Florida State University.
But a knee injury, and car accident soon after, cut short his football career, and he instead found a mentor in the school's theatre professor, who saw his promise in acting.
Reynolds won a summer scholarship at New York's Hyde Park Playhouse, before heading for Hollywood.
He still thinks his 1972 Oscar-nominated film Deliverance is his best, but that his naked photo shoot for Cosmopolitan magazine, which came out just before the film, scuppered its award chances, and shattered his credibility as a serious actor.
"Suddenly my life was a carnival. I couldn't go anywhere without women asking me to sign their copies, each one a painful reminder of my stupidity.
"I think it was hard for anyone to offer me a serious film, which I would have liked to do, because of that."
After his split from Field, he had a disastrous marriage to actress Loni Anderson, whose spending habits plunged him into debt, he says.
The couple, who have an adopted son Quinton, were divorced in 1993, leaving Reynolds with a much depleted bank balance.
"She took everything but the fillings," he says, half joking.
Only last year he had to auction off some of his memorabilia, including an Emmy and Golden Globe.
His finances are now great, he says, as he's just made a movie called Shadow Fighter, about a boxing manager.
"I've owned big houses, a ranch, boats, private jets, helicopters... and I enjoyed them all. But I don't miss them," says Reynolds.
"I feel like a man whose house was blown away in a hurricane. His possessions are gone, but he's thankful to be alive."
:: But Enough About Me by Burt Reynolds is published by Blink.