LOS ANGELES — A plaque and a palm tree weren't enough to mark the swagger and star power of Burt Reynolds.
That's why a bronze bust, mustachioed of course, and sporting his “Smokey and the Bandit” cowboy hat, were unveiled on Monday, three years after his death.
“Anybody else want to touch him?” Loni Anderson, Reynolds' wife from 1988 to 1994, asked the small crowd that gathered around the sculpture after the unveiling at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.
“Yes, he's made to be touched!” said Caroline P.M. Jones, the artist who made it.
Anderson and her son with Reynolds, Quinton, chose the spot where Reynolds' cremated remains were laid to rest in February, because it was next to a palm tree and water, which evoked his native Florida. A simple plaque with his name marked the spot.
But Hollywood Forever co-owner Tyler Cassity told them that the many visitors to his grave would appreciate more of a monument, something to look at, to touch, to take photos with. So the bust was commissioned.
“It's absolutely beautiful, it's exactly what we both envisioned,” Quinton Reynolds told The Associated Press after a brief private ceremony where a crowd of several dozen people who were close to Reynolds gathered to mark the occasion.
Guests included actors Stefanie Powers and Ruta Lee.
Most gathered around the bust to get a close look and take pictures before heading to a screening of a new documentary, “I Am Burt Reynolds,” for a far bigger audience on a nearby cemetery lawn.
While the bust's cowboy hat suggests a 1970s Reynolds, it’s designed to look like a more ageless version.
“That was one of the things we talked about, do we do baby Burt, do we do middle-aged Burt, do we do ‘Smokey’ Burt?'” Anderson told The AP. “He’s worked in every decade, so which decade do we do?”
What they ended up with was “more of an interpretation of every decade,” she said.
Jones' workspace during the process would make her look like the world's biggest Reynolds fan.
“On one side of my studio I had photos of Burt from all eras,” the sculptor said.
There were many detailed discussions about things like the precise length of his mustache. Jones conceded that she really fell for him as she worked.
“He’s such a handsome chap, really, what a handsome man,” she said.
Anderson definitely wanted to get one thing right.
“He needs those great lips," she said, "because I think everybody wants to kiss him.”
A college football standout at Florida State, Reynolds became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and biggest sex symbols in the world in the 1970s and ’80s, known for his mustache, his cocky laugh and his maverick swagger. He starred in two “Smokey and the Bandit” films along with “Deliverance,” “Gator” and “Boogie Nights,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
He died at age 82 on Sept. 6, 2018, at a hospital in Jupiter, Florida. He was cremated a few days later. It is not clear why it took until earlier this year for his ashes to reach the Hollywood gravesite, his family has chosen to keep the details private, but the pandemic contributed to the delays.
Anderson and Quinton Reynolds spoke jointly at Monday night's ceremony.
She opened by acknowledging that she wasn't, in the eyes of many, the most likely person to be offering fond remembrances of Reynolds, given the sometimes rocky relationship that played out constantly in the tabloids.
“There’s nobody here that, unless you’re from another planet who doesn’t realize that we had a tumultuous 12 years together,” Anderson said, speaking with her son at her side. “But I just want to remember the good times. And there were a lot of them.”
Hollywood Forever, founded in 1899 and located near the Paramount Pictures lot, has in recent years become both a historical landmark, home to the graves of major stars including Judy Garland and Douglas Fairbanks, and a cultural hub, home to concerts and movie screenings.
Cassity told Reynolds' family and friends at the ceremony that his grave is near those of the heartthrobs of two earlier eras of cinema, Tyrone Power and Rudolph Valentino.
“Please know that he’s in good company," Cassity said.