A good time had by all (most of the time)

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - INSIDE - Con­tact Shawn Ryan at mshawn­ryan@gmail.com.

Dear Burt: The curly hair­piece was a bad idea, man. Let’s just get that out of the way.

Sure, you wore a hair­piece for, oh, about 100 per­cent of your ca­reer, but the early ones looked nat­u­ral. The curly one perched there like a slab of Astro­turf taped to your scalp, al­ways in dan­ger of fall­ing off.

Bad hair­piece or not, I’m sorry that you’re gone. Al­though you haven’t re­ally been in the pub­lic eye since your Os­car-nom­i­nated per­for­mance in 1997’s “Boo­gie Nights” (which I thought you should have won), for any­one who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, you were al­ways there, al­ways re­li­able. Ba­si­cally, you were al­ways Burt. Some said you weren’t a great ac­tor, but there’s no doubt you were a great movie star.

You once said that when you were young you weren’t all that in­ter­ested in im­prov­ing your act­ing chops, just in­ter­ested in hav­ing fun. No doubt you suc­ceeded there, and it came across in films like “Hooper,” the IQ-erad­i­cat­ing “The Can­non­ball Run” films and “Stro­ker Ace” (man, you loved to drive cars), and the wildly pop­u­lar “Smokey and the Ban­dit” movies which, sorry, I de­tested.

You had some chops, though, and they were on dis­play in “De­liv­er­ance,” “Sharky’s Ma­chine,” even in come­dies like “The Long­est Yard” and “The End.” I very much liked one of your less- er-known per­for­mances in “Shamus.” Your bad films could fill an en­cy­clo­pe­dia and we won’t go into them here, but you could’ve been ar­rested for crimes against Shawn Ryan hu­man­ity when you sang.

To your credit, you were hon­est enough to ad­mit when a film stunk or you made a ter­ri­ble de­ci­sion. You were a big star, but you could’ve been enor­mous and re­spected if you had taken parts of­fered but turned down: Han Solo in “Star Wars,” Michael Cor­leone in “The God­fa­ther,” Rocky Bal­boa in “Rocky,” Bruce Wil­lis’ role as John McClane in “Die Hard,” the Jack Ni­chol­son parts in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Terms of En­dear­ment.” Ni­chol­son won Os­cars for both and that stung you a bit.

“The stu­pid­est thing I ever did was turn down ‘Terms of En­dear­ment’ to do ‘Can­non­ball Run II,’” you said. “Jim Brooks wrote the part of the as­tro­naut for me. Tak­ing that role would have been a way to get all the things I wanted.”

Still, you got a lot of what you wanted. You worked with good peo­ple, made great friends, cashed a lot of big checks, had good times (and bad). Folks felt like they knew you, saw you as a friend who just hap­pened to make movies.

So RIP, good buddy.

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