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The Real Burt Reynolds Was Much More Than An Icon

Author Mark Fauser Shares Memories of His Mentor and Friend in New Book, "Because of Burt"

(Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images)

Burt Reynolds was an icon in every sense of the word. For five years in a row - 1978 through 1982 — Reynolds was the number one box-office star in the world, starring in blockbuster hits such as "Smokey in the Bandit," “Hooper,” “Cannonball Run,” and "Sharky's Machine."

Reynolds had been a successful working actor for well over a decade before hitting the big time, after appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson gave the public their first real glimpse of a Burt Reynolds who was enormously funny, self-deprecating, and didn't take himself or "the business" too seriously.

Those "Tonight Show" appearances launched Reynolds into the stratosphere and arguably altered the course of cinema in the 1970s and 80s. At a time when Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Copolla, and Roman Polanski were making dark and gritty masterpieces, Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham were cranking out a non-stop string of action-comedies that made millions of dollars, but more importantly, made going to the movies fun again. The critics might have hated him, but the moviegoers who were putting the cash in Hollywood's coffers couldn't get enough.

For a time, no one in Hollywood was bigger than Burt Reynolds. Clint Eastwood might be regarded as one of the finest actors and directors of his generation today, but in the early 1980s, even Eastwood attempted to capture a little of the "Reynolds magic" with films such as "Every Which Way But Loose" and "Any Which Way You Can." Yes, even Dirty Harry wanted to be the Bandit.

Hollywood is cruel, however, and the public is fickle. At a crucial time in his career, Burt suffered an injury on the set of "City Heat" that took him out of the game for nearly two years. By the time he returned, the public had moved on. Reynolds fought his way back and eventually enjoyed some of the best critical success of his career with "Evening Shade" and "Boogie Nights," but he never recaptured the star power he once had.

For those who loved and knew him best, Reynold's iconic image and the massive success he enjoyed at the height of his fame is bittersweet. Blockbuster hits and high-profile relationships with the likes of Sally Field and Loni Anderson overshadowed brilliant performances in films like "Starting Over," "Best Friends," and the dark comedy "The End," which Reynolds also directed. It is a shame that Hollywood and the broader moviegoing public never fully recognized the depth and range of Reynolds' talent.

Far more tragic, however, is the fact that Reynolds never received the proper recognition for the investment he made in the lives and careers of countless students, friends, and fellow artists over the years. Reynolds made careers, resurrected them, and in many cases, sustained them long after Hollywood had moved on.

Burt Reynolds had more than his share of ups and downs over the years, but his heart and generosity was a constant. Regardless of the challenges he faced in his career and personal life, Burt poured himself into the lives of others, and he did so without fanfare or expectations attached.

Midwest native and successful actor, writer, and director Mark Fauser is one of many lives that was touched by Burt Reynolds. In his new book, "Because of Burt," Mark shares with readers his journey in the entertainment industry and his many memories of working with his teacher, mentor, and friend, Burt Reynolds. 

As a self-proclaimed Burt Reynolds fanatic who knows more about the Bandit than he probably knew himself (my wife and I re-created a scene from "Best Friends" during our wedding ceremony. 'Nuff said), I can say without hesitation that "Because of Burt" is the first book to truly capture the 'real' Burt Reynolds and all the many lives that were touched by his kindness in his 82 years.

I sat down with Mark Fauser this week for an hour-long conversation about his friend and subject of his book, "Because of Burt," Burt Reynolds. Click the link below to hear it in its entirety.

"Because of Burt" is available for purchase on Amazon.

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