By: Brad Dison
Buddy was born in 1936 in Lansing, Michigan. His father, Burton, was in the Army and the family moved often. In 1946, Buddy’s family moved to Riviera Beach, Florida, where Buddy’s father eventually became the chief of police. For most of his life, Buddy claimed to have been born in Georgia, so as not to be labeled what was the worst insult a southern boy could be called – Yankee.
Buddy was a man’s man. He was a jock. He was skilled at football. He earned scholarships for his outstanding performance in high school. He was named First Team All-State and All Southern as a fullback. Beginning in 1954, he played football for Florida State University. Buddy was also a frat boy. While at Florida State, he joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Buddy partied with his frat buddies as long as it did not interfere with his attention to football. He was on track for a successful NFL career.
Buddy liked to drive fast, albeit in the family’s 4-door Buick sedan. On Christmas Eve of 1955, he was “barreling down” Bee Line Highway in the family’s Buick. Suddenly, in the rear-view mirror he saw the red flashing lights of a police car. He let off the throttle and pulled to the side of the highway. Buddy was somewhat relieved when he recognized the policeman. Officer John Kirk was a friend of his father. Officer Kirk, friendly but firmly, asked Buddy if he realized he was driving nearly 100 miles per hour. Buddy lied. Since officer Kirk knew Buddy’s father, he gave Buddy a break. Rather than writing the ticket for the nearly 100 miles per hour that Buddy was driving, Officer Kirk wrote it for 60 miles per hour. Even though, according to the ticket, Buddy was only driving a few miles over the speed limit, it was still a speeding ticket.
Buddy slowly pulled back onto the highway and began the drive of shame that most drivers experience after getting a speeding ticket. He considered several options as to the best way to tell his father about the speeding ticket. He was careful to drive the speed limit to avoid getting a second ticket. Buddy turned onto a side road and was driving near the Rinker Cement Company when he slammed into something.
A group of guys were stealing concrete blocks from the concrete company. They parked a flatbed truck in the middle of the road so they could quickly load the blocks and make a quick getaway. They had loaded a substantial number of blocks when Buddy crashed the car into the back of the flatbed. The Buick went underneath the bed of the truck. Buddy was lucky to have survived the initial crash. For reasons that he could never explain, Buddy dove underneath the Buick’s metal dash and rolled himself as tightly as he could into a ball. The entire load of concrete blocks fell from the flatbed truck onto the Buick. The weight of the concrete crushed the Buick and trapped Buddy inside.
Buddy waited for help. He was injured, though he was unsure how severely. He later said he was unsure how long he lay there waiting for help. At one point Buddy said, “I felt someone reach in and take the ring I got for playing on the All-Southern High School football team.” He never saw the ring again.
Finally, a policeman arrived and yelled, “Anybody in there?” Buddy recognized the voice as that of Lieutenant Clark Bibler, who worked for his father. He responded, “Clark, it’s me, Buddy.” Clark was surprised to hear the familiar voice. “Jesus Christ, Buddy, what are you doin’ in there?” Buddy’s only response was, “Don’t tell my dad!” Clark said, “I’ve got a feeling he’s gonna know.”
Clark kept Buddy talking while he tried to safely remove him from the crushed Buick. The jaws of life, a hydraulic tool which is used to pry open vehicles in which a victim may be trapped, had not been invented. Within moments, more officers arrived. They called for an ambulance and used pry bars to free Buddy. They helped Buddy from the crushed car, helped him lay down on the pavement and covered him with a blanket to await the ambulance. With adrenaline rushing through his body, Buddy did not realize the severity of his injuries. He stood up, coughed up blood, and blacked out.
When Buddy awoke, he was in the ambulance. He recognized the attendant as a high school classmate. Just before Buddy lost consciousness again, he asked the attendant to pray for him. When he regained consciousness, he was being wheeled into the hospital. Buddy instantly recognized the doctor on duty in the emergency room as Lynn Fort, his family’s doctor. As he was drifting back to unconsciousness, he heard the doctor say, “Prep him, this boy is dying.” The next sound Buddy heard was during the emergency surgery to remove his spleen. A nurse said, “We’re losing him!”
Buddy flatlined. He was dead. The doctor refused to give up and continued working to revive him. Buddy felt himself going down a tunnel toward a white light. Then, he heard himself saying, “F@#$ this! I’m going back!” Finally, due to Dr. Fort’s refusal to give up, Buddy’s heart began to beat again. The doctor and nurses continued with the emergency surgery which saved Buddy’s life. Buddy was lucky to be alive, but he was unable to continue his football career. Buddy’s dream to play in the NFL was crushed when the weight of the concrete blocks crushed his family’s Buick.
Had Buddy not wrecked the Buick, it is likely that he would have ended up with a career in professional football rather than the career we all know him for. Buddy began acting in movies but, because of his name, people confused him with Buddy Hackett. At his agent’s behest, Buddy reverted to a shortened version of his legal name, Burton Leon Reynolds, Jr. We all know Buddy as… Burt Reynolds.
Source: Reynolds, Burt and Jon Winokur. Burt Reynolds, But Enough About Me. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.