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