A TV legend and self-described fan of Knoxville, Burt Reynolds, who died Thursday at the age of 82, helped put the city on the map in the film business.
The film, The Last Movie Star, was loosely based on Reynolds’ life, filmed entirely in Knoxville. Though fans of the movie would note, the “Scruffy City” transformed on-screen to Nashville and Los Angeles, too.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Richie Walls, Associate Producer of The Last Movie Star, “Our first day in Knoxville we walked out in Neyland stadium. I think Burt could tell I was pretty nervous, Burt kind of patted me on the back and was like ‘Your life is full circle now and this is what life’s supposed to be.'”
One actor in the film says she will remember how special Reynolds made everyone feel, on set and beyond.
“People loved him, they would stand and they would watch, wait in line.. he would shake hands, wave, blow kisses, a lot of kisses to a lot of women,” said Sara Mitchell.
It was Mitchell’s first time acting, she received a call for the role of a bride in the film the night before the shoot after the original actor cast missed her flight.
“It was a unique experience to be at a wedding reception that was really cool in my mind, but then to look up and realize that the Burt Reynolds is crashing my wedding reception…” said Mitchell.
Performing in that same wedding scene was Knoxville band Boys Night Out.
“We were playing a wedding band and so he sat up on stage with us on a stool through the whole filming of this scene and joked with us, talked with us in between takes, just one of the guys,” said band member Rick Carl.
Carl says he’ll never forget how warm, funny and congenial Reynolds was with the band, “To know Burt Reynolds, even just for 8-hours, a guy like Burt Reynolds is something we’ll always remember.”
One of the many learning from Reynolds on set was 17-year old Hannah Eimers. Sadly her life was cut short because of a car crash in November 2016. At the film’s premiere, her family learned it had been dedicated to her.
“It meant a lot to our family,” said Hannah’s father, Steve Eimers.
Since Reynolds’ passing, the Eimers family has been cherishing the many memories Hannah shared with them during her dream opportunity on set.
“She always called him Burt, you know, we call him Burt Reynolds but he was more of a friend and once he said ‘Hannah, Hannah, Hannah,’ and she said, ‘Yes, Burt?’ and he said, “I just like the sound of your name,'” said Eimers.
The economic impact of a film this size made in Knoxville is still being felt by Visit Knoxville’s Film Office. In 2018, 7 productions are scheduled to be filmed in Knoxville– the most in one year ever.
“When they brought Burt Reynolds out on Market Square, and everybody cheered, its a lot different in other destinations. It doesn’t matter who’s in that golf cart, some people embrace it and some people don’t,” said Kim Bumpas, President of Visit Knoxville.
Dolly Parton released a statement on Reynolds’ passing on Thursday.
Oh how sad I am today, along with Burt’s millions of fans around the world, as we mourn one of our favorite leading men. I know we will always remember his funny laugh, that mischievous sparkle in his eyes, and his quirky sense of humor. You will always be my favorite sheriff. Rest in peace my little buddy and I will always love you.