A whole host of glowing tributes were paid to Burt Reynolds after his death at the age of 82 in the summer of 2018. But perhaps the most heartfelt came from his The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas co-star Dolly Parton. Here’s how the country legend’s kind words may well have reduced many to tears.
Born in Tennessee in 1946, Dolly Parton first achieved success on the country music scene as a songwriter penning hits for several of Nashville’s finest. She would become an artist in her own right, however, with the release of her 1967 debut album, Hello, I’m Dolly, and a handful of duet LPs with crooner Porter Wagoner. And a period of solo commercial success would then arrive in the 1970s and early 1980s.
“I Will Always Love You,” “Jolene” and “9 to 5” were just a handful of the classic tracks that Parton penned and recorded during this time. Then, after a relatively fallow 1990s, she enjoyed a second wind in the subsequent decade or two with acclaimed albums released through her own Dolly Records label. And as of 2018, the singer-songwriter is reportedly the most honored female artist ever in the country genre.
Indeed, Parton has more than two dozen gold, platinum or multi-platinum albums to her name. She’s also scored a similar number of country music number-one singles, reached the top-ten country albums chart more than 40 times and picked up multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM Awards. At the turn of the century, the star even earned a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Of course, Parton has enjoyed a successful career on the big screen too. She’s appeared in box-office hits such as Steel Magnolias and Joyful Noise, for instance. And she also picked up Best Actress Golden Globe nods for her performances in both 1980’s 9 to 5 and 1982’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
The last movie directed by Colin Higgins, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was adapted from the Broadway musical bearing the same name. It starred Parton as Mona Stangley, an out-of-town brothel owner who has an enduring relationship with a local sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd, played by Burt Reynolds. The movie grossed approximately $70 million during its box office chart-topping run.
And Parton tried her best to ensure that she and Reynolds got up close and personal as much as possible. In a 1980 Rolling Stone interview, she admitted that she had told producers she’d wanted more romantic scenes. She explained, “Wouldn’t you feel like you wasted five dollars if you paid to see Whorehouse and you didn’t see me and Burt kiss?”
Furthermore, rumors later surfaced that the two stars had continued their on-screen romance away from the cameras. And yet in 1982 Parton insisted to People that this hadn’t been the case. She said, “We’re too good friends to want to screw it up havin’ an affair. If [Reynolds] marries and has children, I want to be friends with his wife without her feelin’ we’d ever been lovers.”
And Reynolds did indeed go on to marry and have children. In 1988 he walked down the aisle with Loni Anderson, with the pair later becoming adoptive parents to son Quinton. Sadly, though, the couple then divorced in 1993 after Reynolds had begun an affair with a cocktail waitress. The star had also previously been married to another actress, Judy Carne, for two years in the mid-1960s.
Meanwhile, Reynolds was just as complimentary about his one-time co-star during a 2015 interview with the BBC. When asked about filming with Parton, the actor quipped, “I loved it. It was wonderful. I’ve got to work with her for so long that eventually I was looking at her face.”
Reynolds also told Reader’s Digest that he wasn’t the only member of his family to have been charmed by Parton. He said, “I loved it when my parents visited me on the set of my films. Dolly Parton flirted mercilessly with Dad when I did Best Little Whorehouse, which made him very happy!”
However, not everything about Parton and Reynolds’ time together on set was always rosy. Speaking to Interview magazine in 1984, the singer-songwriter admitted, “Well, Whorehouse was not fun. I loved Burt Reynolds and Jim Nabors and all those people, but at that particular time I was ill. And coming from a Broadway play, we already had everything against us.”
Two years earlier Parton also told People magazine that she and her co-star had often lost their tempers while filming. She said, “Because [Reynolds is] the big star he is, he’d get hacked down quicker. People don’t take me that serious.” At the time, it’s worth remembering, Reynolds was dealing with the heartbreak of his split from actress Sally Field.
Then, tragically, in 2018 Reynolds was the victim of a fatal heart attack at Florida’s Jupiter Medical Center. He was 82. In an official statement, his ex-wife Loni said that she and Quinton would miss his “great laugh.” And the bereaved pair would go on to stage a private memorial for the star at a North Palm Beach funeral home.
A whole host of other tributes also poured in after the news. Reynolds’ Smokey and the Bandit co-star Sally Field, whom he had dated for several years, told Entertainment Tonight, “My years with Burt never leave my mind. He will be in my history and my heart, for as long as I live. Rest, Buddy.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, for his part, described Reynolds as a “trailblazer,” while Ryan Reynolds posted a photo affectionately parodying the star’s famous naked pose. Meanwhile, Stephen Colbert told The Late Show viewers, “For those of you who are too young to know, Burt Reynolds was the number one star of the 1970s. He was charming, he was talented [and] he was handsome [when] all of us were wearing sleeveless scuba vests.”
But one of the most heartwarming tributes to Reynolds came from Dolly Parton. After learning of the news, the country legend posted a still from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas on Twitter. And accompanying the image was the message, “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.”
Parton continued, “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.” Parton’s parting words were, of course, a nod to the 1982 hit that appeared on the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack.
A few months before Reynolds’ death, Parton had also announced that she’d struck a deal with Netflix to produce her own show. Each of its eight episodes would center on one of her own compositions. And in a statement, the star said, “As a songwriter, I have always enjoyed telling stories through my music.”
That wasn’t Parton’s only collaboration with the streaming service in 2018, either. The country legend contributed six new numbers for the soundtrack to Netflix original movie Dumplin’ too. Plus, she worked with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Sia and Elle King on several reworkings of her most cherished hits for the film.