Remembering Burt, and that wonderful interview

by Gary Shelton on September 7, 2018 · 2 comments

in College Sports in Florida, Florida State University, general

Friday, 3 a.m.

When the interview was over, when his tears had stopped and his laughter, I came to this conclusion about Burt Reynolds.

The thing that made him a star, I thought, was that he didn't act like one. He was Burt. He was the old FSU running back. He was the guy who found so much joy in the world.

No, we weren't friends. Vic Prinzi, the old FSU radio announcer, had died, and as I went to gather stories, everyone had several. All of them co-starred Burt, who had played in the same backfield with Prinzi at FSU. It dawned on me that this story would be a keeper if only I could reach Burt.

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So, feeling ambitious, I started to try to track him down.

This guy had a number for that guy, who talked to Burt fairly regularly. Did you try this guy? How about that one? I called this guy and was referred to that one who suggested I call another one. Finally,  after a connect-the-dots day on the phone, I talked to Burt's girlfriend at the time. She told me not to give up, that Burt would want to talk about Vic, but he was in Canada doing a movie (Mystery, Alaska. See it). And did you try that guy?

And so I worked, and I talked to other people about Vic, and I thought I about had the size of him.

Then the phone rang, and it was Burt. Deliverance Burt. Smokey and Bandit Burt. Sharky's Machine Burt. The Longest Yard Burt. Boogie Nights Burt. Cannonball Run Burt. He had the great voice, and the high-pitched laugh, and he was a born storyteller.

I have to tell you. It was one of the finest interviews in the history of interviews. He told old war stories. He told stories about Vic and his bashful nature around Hollywood starlets. He talked about how much he cared, and he cried unashamedly as he did. He would tell his Hollywood stories as if we were both there. He asked me for a favor, to call their old high school coach. It sounded silly that a star like Reynolds was asking a hack like me for a favor.

He talked about Vic, and about their lasting friendship, and about football. He talked about FSU and Bobby Bowden and himself. There was an easy tone to him. I don't mean this wrong, because I'm sure Reynold's craft mattered to him. But after all these years, and all these movies, nothing seemed to matter more to him than third-and-five against Florida.

I kept him longer than I should have. But when I was out of questions, and when he was out of stories, I hung up.

I said it before. This career will put you in a conversation with a celebrity. I interviewed Nelson Mandela. I interviewed Paul Newman. I interviewed Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps and Nancy and Tanya and O.J. I interviewed Robert Conrad. I've been in interview sessions with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and Prince and Michael Jackson. I interviewed Tom Brady and Joe Montana and Mickey Mantle.

I didn't know Burt. I didn't hang out with him. That interview was the only time we had. But he came across as a next-door neighbor. Oh, I knew he had posed for magazines and made money and dated starlets. But he didn't bring up any of that. He was talking about a fallen comrade, a brother-in-arms.

Then there was Burt. I liked him. I liked most of his movies.

Now that he's gone, I will speak well of him. In the end, what else do we have?

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