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Sally Field, plastic surgery and posing nude — Burt Reynolds discussed it all with The Times

Sally Field, plastic surgery and posing nude — Burt Reynolds discussed it all with The Times
Burt Reynolds in 1980. (Iris Schneider / Los Angeles Times)

Late actor Burt Reynolds didn’t shy away from his critics, frequently addressing what fans and the press thought of him — as well as what he thought of himself.

The mustachioed star, who died Thursday at age 82, played football on a Florida State scholarship until a knee injury ended his athletic career. Off the field and at the height of his career, he was best known for dominating the box office in the 1970s with hits like “Smokey and the Bandit.”

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Though a series of flops and tabloid-ready scandals turned Reynolds into a punchline for some time, the actor mounted a comeback on the small screen. He earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his starring role in the 1990s sitcom “Evening Shade” and belated critical acclaim as porn director Jack Horner in 1997’s “Boogie Nights,” which earned him a supporting actor Oscar nomination.

More recently, Reynolds played an aging actor in “The Last Movie Star” — a role that made the octogenarian reflect on his prolific career.

Following are some of the wit and wisdom Reynolds imparted in the pages of the Los Angeles Times over the years.

On his career:

“Nobody can get to you if you’re happy. Once I got back into being a working actor instead of being a movie star, I realized what Clint Eastwood's been trying to tell me for years: Life is too short for you not to do the projects you want to do with the people you like.”

“I had a good run at the top, which I never expected to last as long as it did. Now I feel I’ve gotten better at my craft.” (1987)

On what his peers might think:

“I know a lot of people in this business think I’m a has-been, but I know the public will give me another chance. I’ve got a lot to prove to a lot of people.” (1987)

On love and ex-girlfriend Sally Field:

“I’m a romanticist. I always think that the women I fall in love with, I’m going to be with them forever. I really felt I was lucky to be with Sally. The great minds at Universal never thought she was sexy or talented enough to be in ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’ but I knew then and still feel she’s a super talent. … I’m not going to get in a urinating contest with Sally because I’d lose.” (1987)

On plastic surgery:

“After you’re in the spotlight for a long time, people, both men and women, are forever whispering names of surgeons in your ear, along with little exercises to shape up the turkey neck, the double chin, the sagging eye. I’ve been punched so much through the years, both playing [foot]ball and doing stunts, that my right eyelid sagged so badly my peripheral vision was affected. I had a little work done on it to get it back remotely where it belonged.

“Of course, the first thing they did in the makeup chair for ‘Breaking In’ was give me sagging eyelids. Then they gave me a neck even a turkey wouldn’t want.” (1988)

On what he would’ve done if he weren’t an actor:

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“[‘Evening Shade’ executive producer] Linda Bloodworth-Thomason asked what I would have done if I hadn’t been an actor, and I said, ‘probably a football coach.’ I love kids and know I am very good at communicating with young people, and I love sports.” (1991)

On showbiz:

“We have a thing in this town that if you are enormously witty and gregarious, you can’t be very deep. There’s something wrong with a society that says, ‘You’re the wit,’ but ‘You’re not the teacher.’ ” (1991)

On his mentors:

“I had the best mentors in the world — I had Jimmy Stewart and Hank Fonda. Gregory Peck used to be my neighbor. I used to see him when I would get my paper. ... I would say, ‘I’d like to stay and chat, but I only have five hours.’ He would laugh.

“Then I had some bad influences, guys who would get me into trouble. Like [Robert] Mitchum. You couldn’t keep up with him, and if you did, you died! He didn’t sleep.

“I felt I would never get to the stage where I would be treated like Mr. Stewart, but what is very rewarding to me is the respect I have.” (2005)

On aging:

“The only thing good about getting old — the only thing good about getting old — is that they think something sage is going to come out of your mouth.” (2005)

On posing for Cosmopolitan’s nude centerfold in 1972:

“You just can’t think of the actors you respect and like and think that they would do it. Thinking about it later, I thought, 'What in the hell was I thinking?' Except I thought it would be funny. But I've lived my whole life that way. Jumping off the building would be fun, so I jump off the building.” (2018)

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