R.I.P. Burt Reynolds

This one really got to me. I knew he was old and frail. But I have such affection for him – it’s different than my feelings for other movie stars … it’s its own thing. I am glad he got to experience the expressed love for him at the screenings of The Last Movie Star that happened this year (as well as doing that movie itself, a love letter to him, a space created where he could be with his own fame, contemplate it, regret it, let us in on what it was like to be him.)

There are so many fun roles. People mention Boogie Nights all the time, and yes, it was great to see him play a role with some substance. But unfortunately it’s indicative of a tendency in the critical world to gravitate towards the “serious” as more worthy, less embarrassing to love. Well, I don’t subscribe to that. (See my love of Elvis “formula movies” as possibly the best way to get to know Elvis’ movie persona.) I would say that Burt – at his Burt height – in movies like The Longest Yard, Semi-Tough, Starting Over, Smokey and the Bandit … is the Burt that made him a star. (As well as his revealed biceps and star power in Deliverance). But people don’t admire Burt for his acting, or that’s not all that’s going on. They LOVE Burt for who he WAS. Onscreen, at any rate. There are people with big talent. Some of them become big stars. They appear in serious movies and win awards. This is all fine. I love some of those actors. But the charisma of Burt Reynolds – the way he carried himself – the way he wore his fame lightly, making fun of it – the way he handled his sexuality in an almost casual and self-deprecating humorous way (“Relax, honey, I’m not that good” he says into Jill Clayburgh’s ear before they go to bed for the first time in Starting Over) … all of these indefinable things that made him a superstar … these are the reasons people have such affection for him, this is why he was a star. For the “silly” stuff, the silly stuff that entertained millions. It’s undervalued, this kind of thing. It’s why Reynolds seemed disappointed in aspects of his career, and that, of course, is valid. But as far as the FANS go, there was nothing like Reynolds’ rakish grin, his roguish sense of humor, his pure sex-power charisma – not vain, but so confident he didn’t have to play it up or remind us of it. He lampooned it … in a way that let us know that we were in on the joke. It’s a kind of intimacy with fans that doesn’t happen all that often.

Here are two things about Burt Reynolds:

Mitchell and I discussed him at length. He’s a very interesting topic to dig into. It’s more complex than you would think.

My review of The Last Movie Star over at Ebert. I wrote:

Reynolds acted from pure natural charisma, something unique to him. It won’t win Oscars, but Oscars do not equal actual worth. If you think being “charming” is easy, then walk into a party where you don’t know anyone and try to be as charming as Reynolds. He committed the “crime” of making it all look easy.

Rest in peace, Burt Reynolds. Thank you for giving so much joy to so many. Giving people joy is undervalued and it shouldn’t be. In many ways, it’s the most precious thing of all.

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3 Responses to R.I.P. Burt Reynolds

  1. Barb says:

    Thank you for this. He was THE movie star of my childhood, and always a welcome presence, however fleetingly, in my movie-going life. And you’ve put the reasons why, so beautifully. I haven’t seen him onscreen for years, but I will miss him.

  2. RIP to the most famous attendee of my alma mater. FSU developed a serious drama school in later years (with his strong support). The mindset around here has always been “We got Burt Reynolds. Who you got?”

    Still waiting for an answer….

  3. Melanie says:

    This is so well said! I loved him WITH other actors like Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Dom Deluise. Together they sizzled with charisma and a sense of fun!

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