Burt Reynolds’ Life Advice

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Everett Collection

Hollywood icon Burt Reynolds passed away in September 2018. The actor starred in films like DeliveranceThe Longest YardSmokey and the Bandit, and Boogie Nights. Reynolds previously shared some of his life advice and experiences with Men’s Journal.

What did you learn from your father?
I idolized my father, but for whatever reason, it was hard for us to talk. He was the chief of police in Riviera Beach, Florida, and I never knew him out of uniform. I was young when he left to fight in World War II. Years later, when I visited Germany, he gave me the name of a woman to look up. She was beautiful, and after I spent the afternoon with her, it was obvious that they had had more than just a friendship. It was very difficult for me to face that. He’d been right in the thick of it, when you don’t know if you’re going to see tomorrow, and he did what I would do: He lived every day like it was his last. I think he wanted me to find out that nobody’s perfect.

How tough was he?
Once at 3 am, he got a call and brought me along. There was a big fight at this famous bar that was just a real bad place. The guy in the middle of it was huge, but when my dad slapped him, he went down. There was an audible gasp because you don’t go down when you get slapped, especially if you’re 6-foot-5 and over 200 pounds. On the way home, my dad took his glove off, and he had brass knuckles inside. He said, “You should always have a slight edge when you get some asshole.”

What was it like moving to New York in your early twenties?
I met some wonderful people in New York — Joanne Woodward was the nicest. She got me my agent but had never seen me act, so I thought she had a crush on me. When she said she wanted me to meet her fiancé, I figured I’d just blow him out of the tub. Then Paul Newman showed up, and I’ve never seen a more handsome guy. I wasn’t sure which one of them I liked best.

What’s the best cure for heartache?
There isn’t any cure for it. Just try like hell to behave yourself and have some class.

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How should a person handle vanity?
For actors, it sneaks up slowly and clobbers you. But if you’ve got a friend like Charles Durning, you’ll be OK. Once, I said to him about an actor we both knew, “I don’t ever want to get like that asshole.” And he said, “Oh, you surpassed him years ago.” I just looked at him and laughed, but I was incredibly embarrassed.

What adventure changed your life?
Making Deliverance. It’s the best movie I’ve ever done, but there wasn’t a day that one of us didn’t almost buy the farm. Canoes kept tipping. We got to pick our own, and I wasn’t stupid enough to pick the pretty wooden one. I said to Jon Voight, “You’re the star of the show — you choose first.” And he did exactly what I thought he would: He picked the pretty wooden canoe. I took the metal one that had all the bumps and looked like it had been through war. I think Jon’s busted apart about four times while filming. My tin canoe bored on through. It was a wonderful life lesson.

What have you learned about money after all these years?
I’ve gone through all my money, twice. I mean all of it. When I started making enormous amounts of money, I had these great parties at my house for everybody — but I don’t remember going to parties at their houses. I finally learned how to manage it.

What was it like hanging with legendary tough guy Lee Marvin?
He was my favorite, but he would get absolutely blotto, and I would be summoned to take him home. One night he wanted to ride home on the roof of the car. I said, “Lee, I don’t know about this. What if you fell off?” He said, “Well, fuck ’em.” So I helped him get on top of the car, and he sat up there with his legs crossed like Gandhi. We were riding on the Pacific Coast Highway when I see a police officer coming at us and think, “Oh shit, this is it.” But he just said, “Hi, Lee.” It was obvious that it was something he had seen many times.

Have you learned from your mistakes?
I think I learned something from every one of them, in which case I should be brilliant.

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