By Mike Wilcox
One of my favorite actors, Burt Reynolds, died last week. The former Florida State football star, born in Lansing, began his career acting on television series including “Gunsmoke,” the most popular show in the early 1960s, before he made it big on the silver screen with the 1972 classic “Deliverance.”
Reynolds parleyed that fame into many hit movies such as “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Cannonball Run,” “The Longest Yard” and “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Later he won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the 1997 film, “Boogie Nights.”
In his later years we heard little from Reynolds. One assumed he enjoyed time at his ranch in Jupiter, Fla. Just a few months ago, while driving in to work, I heard him on a morning radio talk show.
It wasn’t the jovial, wisecracking Burt I had seen dozens of times on the “Johnny Carson Show.” No, this Burt was somber and at a loss for words through the whole interview. It was sad. I suspect most listeners knew his time would come soon. It was not how I wanted to remember one of the most popular movie stars of his era.
As I was reading his Wikipedia biography, I was shocked to learn Reynolds spent a few of his formative years in Lake City, Mich. Actually, I found a poem fourth-grader Reynolds had written in a class at Merritt Elementary. His teacher, Jean Davis, who kept this poem as a cherished possession for many years, shared it on Facebook. Here it is:
The wind down the street
It made me get wet feet
I went home and got the comb
And combed my hair
So I would look fair
I went outdoors to play
With my kite, Up up it went
Up so high above the sky
I went over to play with Billy
And you know his is so silly,
Then we played hoptoad
In the middle of the road
We ran around the farm
And we hid in the barn
But you know that spring is fun
And is free for every one
Now you know why he took up acting and not poetry. Soon Buddy moved from Missaukee County. He and his family ended up in Florida. The rest is history.
I was surprised to see so many RIPs and condolences on social media for Reynolds.
I thought he was only remembered by a few oldtimers and film buffs like me. After all, he hadn’t acted in 10 years and the younger generation, I presumed, wouldn’t even know him.
I was wrong. His legacy thanks to the “Smoky and the Bandit” movies as well as “Deliverance” will live on for eternity.
NOTE: Wilcox owns six newspapers. One of them, The Press, covers Missaukee County, where Reynolds went to grade school.