Dear Burt –
Damn it to hell. I waited too late to write this letter.
We’ve corresponded a few times through your assistant Suzanne, and I’d been meaning to send along my latest novel—dedicated to you.
lot of people this summer have asked me about that dedication. You mean, that Burt Reynolds?
I always answer: Is there another?
Do you know him? He reads my books! Burt is a big reader.
Have you met him? No. But I will someday.
I hope you knew how much your movies, your cool style, have meant to me both as a writer and a Southerner.
After a few bourbons, I’m quick to point out that Smokey and the Bandit wasn’t just a car chase film. It was about us racing into the new South, knocking corrupt cops, racist bikers, and the slow mean old ways the hell out of the way.
Each one of those films, those core action movies—Deliverance, White Lightning, Smokey and the Bandit, Sharky’s Machine—had so much to say about the emerging Deep South. The clash of good vs. evil, man vs. nature, the Bandit vs. Buford T. Justice.
In Sharky’s Machine, you stood as tall as Gary Cooper in High Noon, not in a Western town but a gutted, eerie shell of downtown Atlanta. It was before Atlanta rebuilt for a second time, and you could sense the excitement of possibilities. This had to get bigger and better.
So often with your films, it’s the old against the new, the rigid past that seems to never die, but a tough and moral good ole boy can truck or shoot his way through it anyway. No matter the odds. No matter how many cops chase you through the Okefenokee.
As a kid born in the 1970s, I don’t ever remember a time that there wasn’t Burt Reynolds. I always thought of you as one of our own.
For a few years, I was an exiled Southerner, an Alabamian living in such far-flung outposts as Detroit, San Francisco, and St. Louis. And you reminded me of people I knew, someone that could be part of my family.
You played football at Florida State at the same time my dad played football at Auburn. And you were a man I could look up to, someone who removed their helmet and went on to become an artist.
This was key for me. I wanted to be like you. As an often worried and stressed out student-athlete, I wanted to develop your cool.
I developed a lifetime love of cowboy boots, Coors beer, and cool belt buckles. (My treasured possession is one from the now defunct Burt Reynolds Ranch.)
When I played football at Auburn, I was known to often host a Burt Reynolds Night at the football dorm. My teammates and I were on a pretty constant rotation of White Lightning, The Longest Yard, Smokey and the Bandit, and Hooper.
One night, a teammate walked into Deliverance at the infamous Ned Beatty scene and yelled, “What in the hell are y’all watchin’ in here?
Another time my pal Richard Shea joined a Hooper showing and announced, “My dad helped blow up that bridge!”
I learned that the final wonderful scene, where Burt and Jan Michael Vincent face glory or a certain death, was shot outside Tuscaloosa, and Shea’s family construction company helped with the demolition.
You really helped me get through my football days at Auburn, man. I had coaches that made the prison guards in The Longest Yard seem like Boy Scout troop leaders. I took a cue from you. Grin through the bullshit. Don’t ever quit. Ever.
To everyone, you were always a hit. I knew you. My teammates knew you. Burt Reynolds was family.
Hell, Burt, even my grandmother loved you. A proper Southern woman, born and raised in Greenville, Alabama, she kept up with you in the tabloids. She was obsessed with you, Elvis Presley, Pat Sajak, and Richard Burton.
But when I was in high school, it was pretty much all Burt. We talked about you often. She thought you were handsome and funny, loving that time you showed up on The Golden Girls to take Sophia out for lunch.
I was at her house any Sunday night that B.L. Stryker was on, a show created by our mutual pal, Robert B. Parker. I recall vividly lying on her living room floor and watching you and Ossie Davis bust heads on her old console TV.
Editor's Note: One of the more interesting films I've seen lately is The Last Movie Star with Burt Reynolds in the lead. It's not like any movie role he ever played and the part was written for him. Do yourself a favor and put it on your watchlist.
You can find out more about it here: