Close Friend of Burt Reynolds Remembers Fans, Faith, and Smokey and the Bandit
Jupiter, FL – One year ago today the world suddenly and sadly lost an unforgettable American movie legend, and the trucking industry lost a dear friend.
Best known by truckers as Bo “Bandit” Darville from the 1977 movie classic Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds passed away at the age of 82 after suffering a heart attack on September 6, 2018.
Now, a year later, Transportation Nation Network (TNN) spoke with Reynolds’ close friend and business partner, Gene Kennedy, about what made Reynolds so beloved.
“Every day, especially today, we think about him all the time. I miss him dearly,” Kennedy said softly. “He was the nicest, most giving person I think I’ve ever met in my life.”
Reynolds’ acting career spanned six decades and the list of television shows and films he starred in is simply unbelievable.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, perhaps no other actor in the world was more sought after than Burt Reynolds.
However, Kennedy said Reynolds thought of himself as an “average guy.”
“He was perfectly content to have a ham and cheese sandwich, a turkey sandwich or peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner,” Kennedy fondly recalled.
During Kennedy’s decade of travels with Reynolds, he said it was the actor’s love for his fans that made an indelible impression on him.
“Whenever he would sign autographs and meet with his fans, whoever was in line, he would stay there until they were done,” Kennedy said. “He meant a lot to people and people meant a lot to him.”
During the 70s and 80s, tabloid media feasted on Reynolds’ highly publicized relationships, and breakups, with movie stars such as Sally Field and Loni Anderson.
Kennedy let us in on what the truth really was during those times.
“Media looks for the bad in everything. It was not that bad. There was no issues like the media portrays.”
Kennedy said Reynolds even expressed he learned a lot through the challenges in his love life.
“He was also humbled by the experiences and admitted some of his faults.”
One of the lesser known truths about Reynolds, according to Kennedy, was that he was a “devout Christian.”
“He was definitely a saved man,” Kennedy commented.
Kennedy said Reynolds almost always wore a cross pin on his lapel as a symbol of how important his faith was to him.
“He was definitely at peace with everything that happened in his life,” Kennedy said.
“Truly Surprised” By Smokey and the Bandit
In 1977, Universal Pictures released an action comedy about trucking which starred Jerry Reed, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, and of course, the one and only Burt Reynolds.
With a budget of only $4.3 million, no one, including those who performed in the movie, thought Smokey and The Bandit would soon become a international sensation grossing over $126 million at the box office.
Incredibly, it finished as the second highest grossing film of 1977 behind only Star Wars: A New Hope.
The movie also inspired generations of truckers, and is still leaving its mark today.
In 2017, TNN’s orginal series show, Truckerville, traveled to Jonesboro, Georgia to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the immortal bootlegged run by “The Bandit” and “Snowman” from Atlanta, Georgia to Texarkana, Texas and back to Atlanta again in only 28 hours.
Reynolds sat down for an exclusive interview with host, Greg Myhre, in what unfortunately became one of the last known interviews he ever gave about his experience making the hit film.
In a wide-ranging interview, Reynolds discussed his life, career and also chatted about his affection for truckers.
“He really respected the trucking industry and truckers for their hard work,” Kennedy said of Reynolds appreciation for truckers. “He learned a lot from filming Smokey and the Bandit.”
Kennedy said Reynolds was shocked by the impact the film had on so many people around the world.
“I think he was truly surprised that people just live and breathe Smokey and the Bandit,” Kennedy stated. “He was so amazed.”
Reynolds and Kennedy became such dear friends that the movie legend bestowed upon Kennedy the original working script from the movie.
Kennedy said he cherished it deeply; but, in the spirit of giving, he donated it to be auctioned off to benefit Reynolds’ family after his sudden passing.
Today, Kennedy operates Bandit Movie Cars of Florida, a business he and Reynolds founded together.
The company procures and restores movie cars for fans to enjoy before eventually auctioning them off.
Kennedy said the two of them shared a love of cars.
“Burt was definitely a car guy,” Kennedy confidently stated.
Kennedy’s voice grew strong as he talked about what inspires him to keep the business running.
“Burt’s the spirit behind every build we do,” he said.
Reynolds’ legacy is also living on through the scholarship founded in his name.
The Burt Reynolds Scholarship Fund, instituted through the Palm Beach Film Commission, was another passion for Reynolds, Kennedy said.
The scholarship helps people pursue their love of acting.
Kennedy said Reynolds did all he could to encourage people to follow their dreams.
Like Kennedy, millions of Reynolds’ fans are still mourning his loss, but the memories he inspired will undoubtedly live on for generations to come.