A Palm Beach County favorite, Burt Reynolds always came back home

The star of ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’ ‘Boogie Nights,’ and ‘Deliverance,’ died in Jupiter, Florida at the age of 82

It was the late 1950s, when Roseanne got a phone call from her high school friend Buddy. He was just back from Hollywood, and he wanted to get a drink.

“I was really shocked when he called me,” Roseanne Bush remembers now, all these years later. Buddy had graduated from Palm Beach High School the year before her, had been a friend, “but I had not really dated him.”

📷 Exclusive photos: Burt Reynolds in Palm Beach County

And here was the handsome former football star, back from his very trip west to find his fortune on the screen rather than the field, and it seems he just needed a reminder of home. So, out they went, “to someplace in Lake Worth” she can’t remember the name of now, because “he just wanted to go out and relax and talk about it.”

Roseanne didn’t know it yet, but that outing was the beginning of a pattern that Burt Reynolds would follow for the rest of his life — heading out among the stars and then bringing some of that stardust back home. As the world mourns the guy they knew as The Bandit, who died at Jupiter Medical Center on Thursday, Palm Beach County is really missing its Buddy.

“Burt Reynolds reinvented movie stardom,” says Scott Eyman, a Hollywood historian, best-selling author and former Palm Beach Post books editor, who interviewed Reynolds several times. “He made acting seem approachable and fun in a way that stars of previous generations couldn’t or wouldn’t.”

👓 Read more: Burt Reynolds stories, photos and videos

He was a star — for five years the most bankable one in Hollywood, but to Ann Lawlor Scurry, “he was the love of my life. She and Buddy dated “two years seriously, and three years off and on, but he would always go back to me.” That young love left such an impression on her that she even moved to Annapolis, Maryland, near the United States Naval Academy “to get him out of my system. I dated midshipmen while I was there, but everything reminded me of him.”

Even after that love faded, the two stayed friends, speaking as recently as a few weeks ago. Buddy seemed to be the type to keep his old friends around, who never met a stranger.

As he told The Palm Beach Post in 2016, “I don’t know where a lot of actors are from (but) it tells you a lot about them, if they’re from a little town and that little town is beckoning them to come back now and then. I understand that. I like that a lot.”

And his hometown liked it too, from the fans lucky enough to meet him at the former Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater to former co-workers. Everybody seemed to love Burt Reynolds, a star who seemed like he’d live forever. And they’re wondering what they’re going to do now.

“It’s a sad day,” said Douglas Rill, chairman of the board of directors of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Television, where, managing director Donna Carbone said, “everyone is still trying to gather their thoughts about them.”

Karen Marcus, who was a member of the Palm Beach County Commission for 28 years, met Reynolds officially when the county dedicated Burt Reynolds Park in his honor. “He was our local boy, and he never forgot us,” she recalls. “It wasn’t like he went away and then had to remember where his roots were. He always remembered.”

Chuck Elderd, the head of the Palm Beach County Film Commission, knew Burt for more than 30 years, and he thinks he knows what it was that made the neighbors love him so. “It was like having your best friend around. He was Palm Beach County first. From growing up here and going to Palm Beach Junior College and having (Professor) Watson B. Duncan make such an impression on his life, he always felt this was the place that people believed in him.

And he believed right back. For years the Burt Reynolds Scholarship has been presented to Florida film students, “helping young people discover the magic that he’d found in the art form,” Elderd said. Burt made movies and TV here, hiring locals while bringing his famous friends home with him. He was never stingy with his stardust. Ask Nancy Keiter, now of Seattle, who as a member of the first class of apprentices at the dinner theater in 1978.

Burt presented her with SAG card on the “Dinah Shore Show” because “we were all part of the family.”

Or ask Shawn Aubrey of Boynton Beach, whose first date with her husband was in 1980 at that same theater, and who over the years made a point of visiting his local sets, seeing his shows and attending events at BRIFT because “I liked the fact that he was a local guy. I’m from here, he’s from here.”

Later, when Aubrey was diagnosed with breast cancer, those times to check in with her favorite star became a lifeline to her, to normalcy. So when she found out that her second surgery was the same day as an event in Stuart, “I went with ice packs in my bra. I had to. And (organizers) made sure that I was allowed to have my picture taken with him.”

Over on Twitter, words of admiration and condolence are still pouring in from those who loved Burt Reynolds, the famous and the fan alike. But around here, people are just sad about their friend.

“I just want (it known) that he was probably one of the most dynamic, special people who ever graduated from Palm Beach High School,” Scurry says. “People admire him so much. I feel so fortunate that we were part of each other’s lives. I was blessed.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Two sentenced for sex trafficking of 14-year-old
Two sentenced for sex trafficking of 14-year-old

For plying a 14-year-old runaway with crack cocaine, having sex with her and turning her into a prostitute, two West Palm Beach men will spend roughly two decades in prison, a federal judge ordered on Thursday. Calling his conduct “reprehensible,” U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks sentenced 63-year-old Charles Edward Smith to 19 1/2...
NEW: Two killed in single-car crash in West Palm Beach
NEW: Two killed in single-car crash in West Palm Beach

Two people were killed in a traffic crash Thursday morning when their vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a wall along North Jog Road, West Palm Beach police said.  Police identified the crash victims as driver Oshane Edwards and passenger Kamron Greenidge, both 22.  According to police, the crash happened at about 1:30 a.m. along...
LATEST: Girl hurt when PBSO deputy allegedly ran stop sign now headed to rehab
LATEST: Girl hurt when PBSO deputy allegedly ran stop sign now headed to rehab

A college student is out of the hospital and on her way to rehab, 66 days after she was severely hurt in a crash after an off-duty Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy allegedly ran a stop sign. Farrah Fox left Delray Medical Center on Thursday morning, heading for a long-term rehabilitation facility in Mount Dora, northwest of Orlando...
Ex-board member of Palm Beach charity admits stealing $2M from pension
Ex-board member of Palm Beach charity admits stealing $2M from pension

A former board member of a revered Palm Beach charity admitted Thursday that he stole at least $2 million from its pension fund in a carefully orchestrated scheme that spanned 25 years. Sitting in a wheelchair before U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks, 69-year-old William Minor pleaded guilty to a charge of mail fraud in connection with the massive...
More Stories