Burt Reynolds was, at one stage, the biggest movie star in the world. His movies regularly topped the box office, and as such, move studios were eager to work with. That made the union of him and Clint Eastwood in the 1984 project City Heat such a big deal.
Little did Reynolds know, however, that City Heat would have a hefty impact on his career, and his star power.
The film was originally set to be directed by The Pink Panther‘s Blake Edwards, but Eastwood instead wanted, and got, Private Benjamin‘s Richard Benjamin behind the camera. On the first day of shooting for the movie, though, came an accident that would have serious ramificaitons.
Burt Reynolds tells the story of what happened in his memoir But Enough About Me. “The first night of shooting was magical,” he wrote. “The timing was perfect, the jokes were working, and everyone was having fun.”
However, then they got the last scene of the night, a fight scene as it happened. Reynolds’ character was to be hit in the head with a chair, and the scene was set up with a special chair that would easily break when it came into contact with the actor.
Yet the man fighting Reynolds made an error. He picked up a metal chair instead, and “caught me flush on the jaw.”
Reynolds hit the floor, and tried to shake the incident off. He finished the scene, but the day after, he had a “blinding headache and ringing in my ears.”
“Every time I tried to speak my face clicked,” he wrote. “My bite was so lopsided I couldn’t chew. I could only drink liquids, and I began losing weight.”
Reynolds kept working though, and Eastwood spotted his co-star was struggling a few days’ later, and arranged an early finish one day. Instead of going to hospital, though, Reynolds took painkillers to get through the project, but felt that “I ruined the movie.”
The accident, though, took its toll. Reynolds couldn’t work properly again for two years, leading to press rumors that he was in fact battling AIDS (this being the 1980s, when AIDS was at its least understood, and when survival rates were at their lowest). His weight plummeted, and eventually, he got to the bottom of the problem.
Reynolds was diagnosed with temporomandibular disorder (also known as TMC of TMJ), which he explained “affects the joint that connects the lower jaw with your skull. It messes with your balance and your sensory perception. It’s like being seasick all the time.”
It hit Reynolds hard. “It felt as if I had an army of people in my head and they were trying to get out through my eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.”
A solution wasn’t easy to find – a dentist sawed all of his bottom teeth off at one point – but he did find one. His teeth had to all be realigned, and he ultimately recovered. “I feel as though it all made me strong in the end,” he noted, “but I still can’t forgive he people who deserted me.”