By Stephanie Nolasco
Published June 18, 2019
Fans are still mourning the loss of Burt Reynolds.
“Property From the Estate of Burt Reynolds” was held over two days by Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, where bidders flocked for cars, movie memorabilia and even a painting of the star’s favorite horse. The auction house revealed to Fox News in a statement their top sale was a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am custom built for Reynolds and his business partner, Gene Kennedy. The car, the last Trans Am Reynolds owned, sold for $317,500.
Reynolds passed away in 2018 at age 82 from a heart attack.
Gene Kennedy, who helped kick off the auction in honor of Reynolds, spoke to Fox News about how the “Smokey and the Bandit” icon really felt about the film, residing in Florida as opposed to Hollywood and his relationship with Sally Field.
Fox News: What compelled you to participate in this auction and why now?
Gene Kennedy: Well, I was really good friends with Burt and also his business partner. We did a lot of different car adventures together. But I've been helping the family and the estate get through the hard times since Burt's passing. I just felt compelled to help my friend Burt.
Fox News: How did you first meet Burt?
Kennedy: We first met around 2010, 2011. I’m a contractor in South Florida, and years ago, I actually did some work on his property. That's how we met. And I'm also a car guy, car enthusiast. We kind of hit it off from there. We had a passion for Trans Ams in particular, and we had chatted about doing some events with some of my cars, which we did, that was a big success. It kind of led to a friendship that took us all over the country for different events and things.
Fox News: What were some of your favorite pieces from this auction and why?
Kennedy: His iconic "Smokey and the Bandit" movie script, of course. It’s one of my favorites. There's also a lot of personal memorabilia, like boots. Burt was a big Western fan. He loves Western and Native American-themed items.
Fox News: Was there a particular item you were hesitant to give up for auction?
Kennedy: Definitely the "Smokey and the Bandit" movie script. Burt had given me that years ago and I was really reluctant to put it in the auction, but it needs to stay with his collection. I feel some collectors out there that might buy those type of things will put it up for public display or something like that in a collection, I hope. And that was one of the tough ones, the movie script.
Fox News: You previously said Burt was a grandfather figure for you. How so?
Kennedy: Burt was definitely a father figure, a grandfather figure to me. I mean, we were good friends, but over the times we had to travel together, I got to know him on a personal level. Very smart man, gave me a lot of wisdom and advice. I've got five grandchildren, and he was very active in their lives. We did things together, sometimes with the children. And I think it made him happy and us, as well. My father passed away in '07, so we definitely hit it off in that regard. So he's been a big influence on my life. I definitely wouldn't be in some of the positions I've been lately without Mr. Reynolds. His participation in my life has changed it forever for me.
Fox News: You must have many memories, but what's one that's been on your mind lately, especially while getting this auction together?
Kennedy: We traveled a lot together, especially coming here [Los Angeles]. I usually would go out a few days in advance to get our rooms, our hotels ready, those type of things, and I miss those days. Coming here was ... It was fun to come to LA, but by the same token, that's not really a work trip because I used to come here and try to make things ready for him so he had an easy transition into wherever we were going. So I do miss those things, participating in his life and trying to make his life a little easier and a little better.
Especially as he got a little older, he was tougher to get around and be mobile. Burt did his own stunts, and he really hurt his back over time, to make these movies look authentic for us. He loved doing his own stunts, but it took a toll on him in his older years. Just to help him and see him have a good life was something we're proud of.
Fox News: He could have easily lived in Hollywood, but he chose Florida as his home. Why?
Kennedy: He loved California. He definitely had a home here. But his true home was in Florida. His father was the police chief at Riviera Beach in Florida. When he was a young man, he wanted to go off to college in Florida. It was his home state, and he loved Florida very much. The Southern traditions and the beach and the coastal area of West Palm Beach and Jupiter, that was his home. That's where his roots were.
Fox News: As a father/grandfather figure, what's the biggest piece of advice he ever gave you?
Reynolds: We were on an airplane once, and Burt loved to read. He had an enormous library in his home and he'd read probably every book in it. But we were on an airplane and he had a magazine. There were some articles in there about just being good to people and that type of thing. He circled the passage in this magazine, and then he leaned over and he showed it to me. It was basically, "Treat people good and in turn, people should treat you good."
And that was his philosophy — to just treat everybody openly, especially his fans. When we did Comic-Cons and things, other actors had left the building but Burt would stay there until his line was done — until every last person got their signature. Even if his hands were hurting or carpal tunnel was kicking in, he would stay there and make sure everybody got their last autograph. He cared a lot about the fans, and that was Burt. Very caring, loved everybody. He tried to instill that in all of us.
Fox News: It’s always been said Burt had a wonderful relationship with his fans over the years.
Kennedy: That’s right. Some of the events that we had put together, especially with the cars, we had the "Smokey and the Bandit" cars, so we have all the Trans Ams, the sheriff cars. Everybody loves to see the iconic movie cars. Our company was formed, Bandit Movie Cars in Florida, based on that. We basically did roadshows, and we did the 40th anniversary of "Smokey and the Bandit" in Atlanta to commemorate the movie.
Burt came there. He spent the entire week there with us and connected with all the fans in Georgia, where the movie was filmed. It's just unheard of for a celebrity of his stature just to come and mingle and be part of celebrations for a movie that's 40 years old. We had the whole South of Atlanta shut down and gridlocked traffic. People had come to see Burt Reynolds.
Fox News: How did he really feel about "Smokey and the Bandit"?
Kennedy: We chatted about it a lot. "Deliverance" was one of his favorite films, and he thinks that was part of his best work, but he also loved "Smokey." He knew "Smokey" was a big film to his fans and he embraced it, as well. But those were some of his iconic years, those late '70s movies that he had done. And he, by all means, loved the movie and loved the car. He understood the Trans Am became its own character in the movie, as well, and that's why he had several of them.
Fox News: What are some fun facts about Burt that would surprise fans today?
Kennedy: Burt was very humble and very simple... When I first met him, when he went to eat, "Burt, can I go get you something?" You would expect somebody like him to want steak or a lobster or something. Burt was very simple. Peanut butter sandwich, bologna sandwich, and he loved orange juice.
Burt drank orange juice by the gallon. And myself, I'm a diabetic, so I really can't drink orange juice. But man, he could drink it. He loved OJ. Which, he did a Tropicana commercial back in the '80s, so he was a spokesperson for Tropicana. But he really did love orange juice... I just miss him. He just was a blessing to be around, and he's going to be missed.
Fox News: When was the last time you spoke to him?
Kennedy: We actually did an event in August in Tennessee up in Knoxville. And I usually would fly with him to some of the events. We had a private plane scheduled to pick him up. But I had to remain behind to get some props and things moved with one of the trailers and I stayed behind. But I took Burt to the airport. We chatted a little bit on the way there/ I drove him out on the tarmac and I helped him get on the plane. We hugged and I told him I love him. That was the last time I ever saw Burt — when he got on the plane. He passed away that September.
Fox News: How did you cope with Burt’s passing?
Kennedy: It was tough. We had an event scheduled in Las Vegas for late September or early October that we were preparing for. We were just in disbelief. I mean, he had just been to the doctor and got a clean bill of health. He was all set to go and no issues. He was also studying for the Quentin Tarantino movie that's coming out next month, and I know he was reading for that. He had just actually come to LA the month prior, also, to read with Brad Pitt on that movie, as well.
And he was very excited about being able to do that. So it really took us all by surprise. I mean, I literally heard it on the radio and got a phone call from the family almost immediately when it happened. It took us all by surprise, and I had to pull over for a minute. I was actually on the interstate driving when I heard it, and I had to pull over for a second. I was in disbelief to what I had just heard... We all knew Burt was older. We all have our ailments, but nobody ever expected it because he was just so full of energy and so full of life. He was still doing his craft and staying busy working.
Fox News: What were his final years like?
Kennedy: I'll be honest with you, I'm 50 and I had a hard time keeping up with him. He was always working and always staying up. I remember times when I would want to go take a nap and Burt's still working and doing his thing. So he was always active. And, of course, as we know, Burt, growing up, I mean, my God, he was always fit, in top shape. He remained that way all through his life.
Burt has always taken really good care of himself... But the final years of his life were busy. He always received opportunities and he was happy to just work.
Fox News: Did he ever speak to you about his relationship with Sally Field?
Kennedy: Yeah. When we did Q&As at different events, that was always a popular question about him and Sally, and he was always really kind to Ms. Fields. Never had anything bad to say. Hollywood was a tough time in the '70s. Burt had a lot of temptation, being the Hollywood sex symbol that he was. But that took a toll on their relationship. He said that was always the one he let slip away. And if he had it to do again, he would have spent more time and tried to make that work out.
Fox News: Do you think he had any regrets?
Kennedy: No. I think Burt was very happy with his life. I think he even had said in several interviews that he never expected to get to the level that he had achieved through acting. He took his first job for "Riverboat" as a stunt double because he heard it paid good money. But he liked it so much that he then decided to pursue more of a stunt career. He then began to study acting.
He had a car accident that hurt his knee. One of his teachers then asked him to be in a play and that kind of led Burt into his acting career. They saw something in Burt that he probably hadn't seen in himself. That's how he ended up [...] the mega superstar that he became, because of an injury to his knee. That's the Burt we know today.
Fox News: What do you hope audiences will get from this auction?
Kennedy: Well, this will be a real honor to put Burt's life and some of his personal items in the hands of folks that have probably adored him all of their lives. And he's touched so many people and we've done so many shows together and the number of people that come out to see Burt Reynolds and stand in the rain, stand in line days to meet him, myself included, obviously. I was a fan first and then to be able to know him has been a blessing for me. But folks being able to actually maybe get a little something from his life that they can treasure is kind of unheard of.
There's not that many people with a legacy like Burt Reynolds. He's up in that level of actors that we'll just never see again. He also touched and transitioned, I think, from old Hollywood to new Hollywood. So he's kind of that last bridge. I told him one time, "Burt, you're like a walking Smithsonian." He laughed. I actually told him that. It's just true. He just touched so many genres of people and different lives.