Burt Reynolds passed last week.
For many Burt Reynolds was a hero, an idol, a symbol of what it meant to be a true Hollywood icon. The light of his star went out last week and with it the hearts of many were broken.
One person who was greatly impacted by Burt Reynolds passing is, Irish writer and journalist, Wayne Byrne. Wayne sent me a message asking if it would be ok for him to express his grief for his loss, by writing a piece for my blog. I was very honoured that Wayne messaged me and I am really delighted to be hosting his beautiful tribute, his personal thoughts as a writer, to a man he called his hero.
Please do read this wonderful piece of writing from Wayne Byrne and let me know your own thoughts..Has the death of somebody famous impacted you personally, even though you may never have met them?
Bye, Burt: A Writer Reflects on a Hero
by Wayne Byrne
Burt Reynolds died last week.
Never in my life have I been so affected by a celebrity death. I never knew the man and yet I was overcome with emotion. It was genuine sadness. Of course we are hurt at the loss of artists we hold dear, but this was a response I was unprepared for.
A little context: I have been writing a book on Burt Reynolds for the past year, having enjoyed his work for three decades. The book is due out next year and has been a labour of love. Reynolds is my favourite movie star, and he was, in my opinion, the greatest movie star of a certain generation. I never got the chance to speak to him, but I was in the company of one of Reynolds’ close friends of forty years when the news was broke to both of us. It was a shock and it was devastating to each of us, but in different ways. My companion’s grief was for the loss of a dear friend and someone with whom he enjoyed an astonishing career in Hollywood. My own sense of loss was for the actor and director I greatly admired, but also for a man whom I have become increasingly in awe of as I chronicle his life. And while lamenting the artist, it’s hard not to mourn for what the artist represented to us at certain points in our lives.
In the days since Reynolds’ death, I have thought about the nature of writing about other people’s lives. I could never imagine writing a book on an artist whose art I loved any less than absolutely, and I absolutely love Burt Reynolds. It would be work and a chore to devote oneself completely, temporally (and contractually) to a book if your connection to the subject was anything less than spiritual.
Therefore I make no allusion to objectivity in my writing. Over the course of my time working on this book I have spent many hours, days, weeks, with some of Burt Reynolds’ friends and colleagues discussing the art, and the man behind it all. The result is, that as a writer, we are gifted a unique insight into the real person behind the public profile.
When we make the commitment of work to spend a portion of our lives putting on paper our fascination with an artist in order to uncover the key to our emotional and intellectual investment, it is perhaps inevitable that sometimes you cross over the threshold of impartial documentarian and into the role of confidante, and occasionally, friend, of those contributing. You meet people who, regardless of erstwhile fame or accolades, sometimes open themselves to you completely, and the more people reveal of themselves and of the subject at hand, the dynamic of your writing can shift to something more intimate and personal. You are no longer just dealing with you own admiration of the artist, you are working with people’s feelings, emotions, memories, and legacies. It becomes, dare I say, important.
The stories we hear from interview subjects, sometimes deeply personal anecdotes and insights, can genuinely affect our idea of the artist as people. They begin to feel real, human, and not merely impossible gods or illusive ghosts of the silver screen. In this case, with revelations of the man’s goodness, charity, and humility, so too has my own appreciation, and perhaps melancholy for his passing, increased.
The Burt Reynolds who has been described to me is so much more than his oft-misinterpreted media image as an icon of cinematic masculinity would suggest. Across many interviews, a picture has invariably been drawn of a fiercely loyal man, a man generous to a fault, compassionate, playful, and magnanimous; a Hollywood superstar who gave so much and asked so little in return bar trust, friendship and professionalism.
There is a depth of warmth, sensitivity and pathos behind Burt Reynolds’ onscreen rapscallion charm and charisma. It’s present in many of his lesser known and much overlooked works, most notably in films such as Fade In, Starting Over, Best Friends, Breaking In, The Man from Left Field, Reel Love, The Last Movie Star, and his sitcom, Evening Shade.
There is a sense of community across the six decades of his career, which speaks to the loyalty previously mentioned, as familiar faces appear across many films, and having spoken to some of those faces it’s not hard to deduce why. Whether on set, or on his workshops at his acting institute, where he nurtured and supported raw talent that often became future film stars, Burt Reynolds created an environment for his collaborators much like a family, and many actors, directors, and crew members became part of that exclusive club.
On September 6th that family, and his legions of fans around the world, myself included, said goodbye to a fearless filmmaker, a champion of cinema, and a damn fine movie star.
The last movie star, if you will.
Bio:Wayne Byrne is a Film Historian, Librarian, and Journalist from Co. Kildare.
He is the author of The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out (Columbia University Press/Wallflower Press, 2017) and writes for Hot Pressmagazine.
Byrne has written two books for McFarland & Company Publishers, both due for release in 2019.
One is a comprehensive book of film criticism on the career of Burt Reynolds and the other he co-authored with legendary Hollywood cinematographer, Nick McLean Sr., which is a study of McLean’s life and career in the film business.Twitter ~ @DiCilloBook
Lovely, heartfelt piece. I felt a similar way when Leonard Cohen died. I hadn’t studied his life as closely as Wayne has studied Burt’s, but I felt I knew him through his music. The day after he died I named a character in my book, Leo, after him. <3
I agree June. Wayne has written such a very honest and poignant piece. I have been quite in shock with the number of musicians who have died recently with Dolores O’ Riordan being one. I was never a huge Cranberries fan but something about her passing really got to me….perhaps the mother in me. I was also really taken aback when Amy Winehouse died. These people are so accessible through the media, bringing them into our lives and our homes..the impact of their passing can be great.