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Leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran To Discuss Syria; Britain and U.S. Slam Russia Over Nerve Agent Attack; Actor Burt Reynolds Dies At 82. Aired 12m-1a ET

Aired September 7, 2018 - 00:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this hour, the White House on the hunt for whoever wrote an anonymous op-ed bashing Donald Trump. More than 1 dozen administration officials have already come forwarding, insisting it was not them. We'll look into it.

Plus the front-runner in Brazil's presidential election is in the hospital in grave condition. That's after he was stabbed on the campaign trail.

And he was cool and confident, a Hollywood sex symbol and one of the biggest stars of the '70s. We look back at the life of Burt Reynolds.

And we will talk about my favorite, "Smokey and the Bandit."


ALLEN: Thank you for joining us, everyone. I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: Our top story: the hunt is on to find out who wrote a controversial op-ed in "The New York Times," describing a quiet resistance within the Trump administration. On Twitter, President Trump is calling on investigative journalists at "The New York Times" to investigate themselves and find out who wrote the essay.

And at a campaign rally in Montana just a few hours ago, FOX News spoke with Mr. Trump in an interview recorded in front of the crowd.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, number one, "The Times" should never have done that because really what they've done is virtually -- you know, it's treason. You can call it a lot of things. But to think you have somebody -- and all of the cabinet so many

people, they came forward. They're writing editorials. They're all saying it's got to be at a fairly low level. I see all the people that are saying such great things. We have a lot of love in the administration.

And the White House is truly, as you would say, a well-oiled machine. It is working so well.


ALLEN: Other signs, though, point to a White House in damage control mode, trying to find out who is behind "The New York Times" essay. CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports from the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump seething tonight, demanding names, as he and the rest of the White House go on a frantic hunt to find the author of the anonymous op-ed calling him petty, ineffective and ill-informed.

The rampant speculation forcing more than a dozen senior officials to issue statements denying they trashed the president, including the vice president, Mike Pence, who said this today:


COLLINS: Pence calling on the unnamed author to step down immediately.

PENCE: Anyone who would write an anonymous editorial smearing this president, who has provided extraordinary leadership for this country, should not be working for this administration. They ought to do the honorable thing and they ought to resign.

COLLINS: As high-ranking officials scrambled to issue emphatic denials that it was them, sources tell CNN aides were printing out their statements and hand-delivering them to Trump while he fumed inside the White House, telling aides he knew there were people out to get him.

His closest staffers trying to push the suspicion out of the West Wing.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I just have to correct the record. It's not clear to, us anyway, that it's somebody in the White House. And they're saying senior administration official. That could be many people.

COLLINS: On Twitter, Sarah Sanders urging people to ask "The New York Times" about the identity of the "gutless loser," saying: "They are the only ones complicit in this deceitful act."

Trump's anger only intensifying since his public outburst yesterday. TRUMP: When you tell me about some anonymous source within the administration, probably who's failing and probably here for all the wrong reasons now and "The New York Times" is failing.

If I weren't here I believe "The New York Times" probably wouldn't even exist.

COLLINS: President Trump didn't answer if he's going to take Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky up on his suggestion, that they should administer lie detector tests to White House staffers who hold security clearances to determine if it's them that are the ones talking to the media.

But, of course, he has listened to Rand Paul, one of his biggest allies here in Washington, before when he suggested he should revoke John Brennan's security clearance. Now it's to be determined if the president will listen to his suggestion now.

But, of course, all of this is going to continue and the paranoia is going to continue to deepen as the hunt for whoever it is that wrote this op-ed continues here at the White House -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


ALLEN: Let's talk more about it now. Joining me from Los Angeles, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican commentator and podcast host DeAnna Lorraine.

Thank you both for joining us.

DeAnna, the president obviously furious about this --


ALLEN: -- Vice President Pence, too. One would understand. This was damning if people give it credibility.

Will they, do you think?

DEANNA LORRAINE, REPUBLICAN COMMENTATOR: You know, I don't really think so. I think people are really sick and tired of hearing these accusations over and over again. And, you know, predictably we're going to hear something again next week. Someone's going to come out with another book or an op-ed.

It has become predictable at this point and almost boring. People are tired of hearing the same accusations. OK, so he might be incompetent or he's childish or he doesn't have the best delivery sometimes. The White House is in chaos. His supporters hear this daily and they're really tired of it.

And actually they're pretty deaf to it at this point. So I actually think if anything, it's going to bolster his supporters' support of him come the midterms and not decrease it, like the Left is hoping.

ALLEN: What about that, Dave?

Many people think that the more negativity that comes about Mr. Trump, the more things people say that the White House is in chaos. To DeAnna's point, it will be, oh, same old, same old and become irrelevant.

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't buy the argument. The data suggests that Donald Trump is in a nosedive. If you look at recent public opinion polling, Donald Trump has dipped down to a very low 36 percent approval rating in recent polling by "The Washington Post" and ABC News.

Moreover, it's not just Donald Trump's lackluster approval rating but combine that with polling on who Americans want to control the next Congress. Democrats are leading in that same poll by a whopping 14 points.

And it's not just that poll. "USA Today" came out with a poll last week that has Democratic advantage in terms of the generic ballot by a significant 11 points.

That double-digit advantage indicates that we are seeing the beginnings of a potential blue wave that could swipe across the country and send Democrats in control of the House of Representatives and put the Senate in play.

And so I think the increasing chaos and the continued sort of meltdown mode that we see on a daily basis from this White House is bleeding into the public opinion polls that we're seeing day after day.

ALLEN: DeAnna, what do you think to that?

LORRAINE: I just -- I don't agree. I think people are becoming deaf to it, even immune to it. You know, when --


ALLEN: The base is.

You think the base is or do you think it goes beyond that?

LORRAINE: I think that it goes beyond that. I actually think that people that are more in the middle, that are more center, they're actually starting to become sick and tired of this, too. They're thinking maybe I'm going to choose right this year.

And I think so many people are really tired of hearing the same repetitive drumbeat. We know that Trump isn't the most conventional president. We didn't elect a choir boy. We knew he was going to shake up things in the office and we knew this was going to be an unusual presidency and it has been.

He's delivered on those promises. It's not why people elected him. They didn't elect him to be a conventional person. So this is all just, you know, really par for the course. And, really, I think the Left is doing a lot of damage by continuing to come out with these things and really treat the American citizens like infants that need to be guided and told what to do.

People elected Trump because they were tired of being told what to do, who to vote for and how to think. And the more that the Left and media comes out with these kind of op-eds, saying, you know, warning us about Trump and, you know, this is such an ominous presidency, I think people are going to tune that out.

ALLEN: There's unconventional. Then there's chaos. Then there's, if there's credence to this, if someone comes out, say and says, I did it and here is the thing, that's different than unconventional. If you have people inside the administration, trying to keep this president from being -- from taking out actions that they deem very dangerous.

LORRAINE: Well, absolutely. And I think that's actually very strange, too. I think we all should actually be more worried about why are there people inside the White House supposedly that are sort of acting as a shadow government, that are saying that they're steering the presidency?

That is something that's actually more worrisome because that confirms Trump's claims over and over that there is some sort of shadow presidency and there's people that are, you know, really trying to subvert his presidency and subvert the will of the American people. So I think that's actually much more troubling that we should be worried about.

And, yes, there is chaotic (sic) and, yes, there is something that is unconventional. But we don't really know. This is all just hearsay at this point. You know, Omarosa just came out with her book. It's over and over the same thing. And we really won't know. But it is all hearsay at this point and that's what his supporters think, too.

ALLEN: We also have a book by Mr. Woodward, Bob Woodward, that kind of mirrors what this anonymous op-ed is saying about President Trump.

Let's get your thoughts on that, Dave.

JACOBSON: I mean this is nothing new, right?

This is reflective of --


JACOBSON: -- at least the excerpts because the book doesn't come out until next Tuesday. But what we have seen from Mr. Woodward's book are reflective of what we saw in Mr. Wolff's book and Omarosa's book.

And, frankly, it's what we're seeing in reporting from CNN, "The Washington Post," respected publications like those as well as "The New York Times," among others.

I mean there has been an onslaught of news on a daily basis about the chaos and the dysfunction and the infighting and the inability of this administration to function like a coherent, modern-day presidential administration. And the fact that you have individuals, who come out with this

anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" today, you know, some could make the argument that this person is a patriot standing up for our democratic institutions. Others could say that this person's a coward because they didn't put their name on the byline.

Look, I think the bottom line is people are scared that this president is dangerous because he is undermining our institutional norms and the institutional entities of this country. I mean, let's not forget; Donald Trump, on a regular basis, skewers the FBI, the top law enforcement institution in this country.

But not just that. It's his own Department of Justice. It's the judicial system. I mean, Neil Gorsuch even criticized Donald Trump, saying that it was disheartening when he attacked Judge Curiel.

So I think, you know, you've got a president who continues to not just be thin-skinned but who puts us on a dangerous path in terms of protecting our democracy and the pillars that are the institutions that hold up this great nation.

ALLEN: Last word from you on this one, DeAnna.

LORRAINE: Well, what about the will of the American people?

You know, when people keep saying that Trump is a dangerous president and the American people feel that Trump is a dangerous president, that's actually not true. You know, half of America actually voted for him and they want him and they support him and his policies and his vision. And half of America think that he's doing a fantastic job.

You know, he's boosted the economy. We have unemployment rate at an all-time low. We have so many great things happening in our country. I mean thousands of people showed up at his rally tonight. But nobody chooses to talk about that or highlight those things. And he's constantly in defense mode.

And we don't like being spoken for like that and honestly it would be great if somebody wrote a fair piece about the chaotic things happening in the government but also some of the highlights. That would give the Left, I think, and the media a lot more credibility if they were more fair and unbiased.

ALLEN: Well, if someone wrote that, I would think "The New York Times" would consider putting that in as an op-ed as well.

I want you both please to stand by because I want to talk to you about the other big issue coming out of Washington; that is U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ended his third and final day of Senate testimony on Thursday.

He came out of the grueling experience a little bruised but apparently unscathed despite the determined efforts of Senate Democrats. For more about that, here's CNN's Phil Mattingly.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, a dramatic moment of Democratic revolt that may not have been that dramatic at all.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: This is about the closest I'll probably ever have in my life to an "I am Spartacus" moment.

MATTINGLY: Outraged over the lack of public access to thousands of documents related to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-ILL.), MINORITY WHIP: By what authority could he possibly be denying to the American people information about a man who's seeking a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land?

MATTINGLY: Democrats making a very public show, saying they would break Senate rules and release the documents on their own.

BOOKER: I understand that the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate. And if Senator Cornyn believes that I violated Senate rules, I openly invite and accept the consequences of my team releasing that email right now.

MATTINGLY: The Republicans calling the move a political stunt to interfere with Kavanaugh's nomination and making clear the documents in question had actually already been cleared for release and calling out those across the aisle.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TEXAS), MAJORITY WHIP: Running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate.

MATTINGLY: The newly-released documents, once deemed confidential, include this March 2003 email in which Kavanaugh discusses abortion, writing, quote, "I'm not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level, since the court can always overrule its precedent."

Democrats seizing on the email, saying it called into question Kavanaugh's view of whether the abortion law could be overturned, an issue that could turn key votes against him. Kavanaugh on Thursday denied that was the case.

JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: In that draft letter it was referring to the views of legal scholars.

MATTINGLY: And returned to a familiar refrain: Roe v. Wade was precedent and would go no further.

Late Wednesday night, Senator Kamala Harris pressed Kavanaugh about whether he had discussed Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Have you ever discussed Special Counsel Mueller or his investigation with anyone?

KAVANAUGH: Well, it's in the news every day. HARRIS: Have you discussed it with anyone?

KAVANAUGH: With other judges I know.


HARRIS: Have you discussed Mueller or his investigation with anyone at Kasowitz, Benson and Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer? Be sure about your answer, sir.

MATTINGLY: Asked today, Kavanaugh clearly denied the allegation.

KAVANAUGH: I am -- don't recall any conversations of that kind. I haven't had any inappropriate conversations about that investigation with anyone.

MATTINGLY: Today Harris, who hasn't produced evidence of any such interaction, explained her questioning.

HARRIS: I have good reason to believe there was a conversation. I asked him a clear question and he couldn't give a clear answer.

MATTINGLY: For all the partisan battles, the fights over documents and fights over issues that are central to the country, the reality of the stakes that are currently kind of being held in U.S. senators' hands, the bottom line that really matters is, will Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed?

Here's what we know behind the scenes right now. In talking to aides, both on the Republican and the Democratic side, there is a recognition that Brett Kavanaugh's nomination right now stays steady. It is on fairly firm ground.

And there is every expectation, over the course of the next couple of weeks, he will be confirmed, despite the documents, despite the questions, despite the anger on the Democratic side.

Could something change in the near term?

Certainly possible. However, as it currently stands, Brett Kavanaugh will no longer be testifying. Thursday was his last day on the stand. After that, people supporting him and opposing him will be testifying instead. Brett Kavanaugh will not.

For all intents and purposes, Brett Kavanaugh's role in this process is done. For senators, well, theirs will finish wit the vote on the Senate floor, one at least, at this point, looks like will go Kavanaugh's way -- Phil Mattingly, CNN, Capitol Hill.


ALLEN: Let's turn now back to Dave Jacobson and DeAnna Lorraine.

Dave, let's start with you here. So basically unscathed. That's how it appears that Brett Kavanaugh came out of these hearings.

Why do you think Democrats couldn't make more of an issue as far as the missing documents, Cory Booker with the emails?

What happened there?

JACOBSON: Well, look, Natalie, I think it's no doubt, like this is definitely a steep hill for Democrats to climb in terms of blocking Kavanaugh's nomination. Bottom line, it comes down to arithmetic. Republicans are the majority. Republicans have the votes.

The question is, where are the potential swing votes, right?

It comes down to potentially Susan Collins, the senator of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both of which, you know, are partially somewhat -- have a pro-choice support.

So the question is, you know, do these emails have a meaningful impact on that, right, because he does question -- and it's more about the issue of precedent.

Those emails from 2003, when Kavanaugh was in the Bush administration, he questions the precedent of Roe v. Wade. So that is really what this comes down to. But I think the broad sort of issue also beyond, you know, the choice, abortion issue, of course, is just the fact that he is out of the mainstream.

Here you have a potential nominee, who is, you know, he refused to say whether or not to say whether he supports marriage equality and Justice Kennedy's decision. That is a seat he's going for right now with this position.

Then you've got the broader issue of presidential power, right?

He's written pieces and questioned whether or not a president should even be investigated while in office.

And this new Supreme Court could potentially weigh in on whether or not Bob Mueller could subpoena Donald Trump, right?

So Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice might have some influence over that. So that could also raise questions with some of these relatively anti-Donald Trump senators, whether it's a Jeff Flake or Bob Corker. So look, again it is a tough hill the Democrats are going to have to climb to block this but not out of the realm of possibility.

ALLEN: What do you think, DeAnna?

Do you think it's a possibility he could be blocked?

A lot of questions did surround that point that Dave just made about Kavanaugh maybe being able to allow the president to pardon himself, if need be, would perhaps rule that the president can end the Russia investigation.

LORRAINE: I don't think -- I think he's going to be confirmed. You know, people can agree on both sides of the aisle that he's more than qualified to be a fantastic Supreme Court justice. You know, he has rock star credentials, Yale graduate and he's revealed more papers than most of the justices in the last five years.

And they really have all the information that they need to make a great decision. I don't see him getting blocked.

And it's funny and very ironic that the same senators that are saying they wanted to see more files, more papers, more documents on him, they had already decided to block him and say no to him before they even knew exactly who it was that Trump announced.

And that's just -- you know, that just shows sort of the level of hysteria that's over there on Capitol Hill. It shows the level of hypocrisy, really, that they're willing to go to. This has really become --


LORRAINE: -- more of a circus. Their antics are becoming pretty ridiculous and I think again it's going to hurt them more because he is going to get confirmed.


ALLEN: But let me just -- one more thing.

Dave, in 20 seconds, do you believe circus and hysteria on the part of the Democrats?

JACOBSON: Absolutely not.


JACOBSON: President Obama put forward Merrick Garland as his Supreme Court nominee during his final year in office.

And what happened?

He didn't even get a hearing with the Senate judicial committee. So talk about hypocrisy. It is Republicans who have enormous hypocrisy when it comes to Supreme Court nominations. Merrick Garland should have had at least the opportunity to have a nomination process and he didn't even get a hearing.

ALLEN: I'm going to have to let that be the last word. I just wanted to let you guys go back and forth a bit. We appreciate you. Dave Jacobson, DeAnna Lorraine, thank you both.

JACOBSON: Many thanks.

ALLEN: Next here, a Brazilian presidential candidate stabbed at a campaign event.

Also ahead, a message from the Syrian government. The war is ending. We are winning. And now we're open for business.




ALLEN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

A right-wing presidential candidate in Brazil was stabbed while campaigning Thursday. The video may be a bit hard to watch but these images show the exact moment front-runner Jair Bolsonaro was attacked, stabbed in the abdomen with a large knife.

Bolsonaro underwent emergency surgery. Doctors say he is in grave but stable condition. One person has been arrested in connection with the stabbing.

The U.N. is calling for a solution to the crisis in Idlib, Syria. This as leaders of Iran, Turkey and Russia are set to meet in Iran. Turkey hopes to avert a Syrian and Russian offensive on the area but that could all be in vain. The early stages of the assault may already be underway.

This video shows bombing in the countryside near Idlib's southern border on Thursday. The White Helmets rescue group says air and artillery strikes killed at least one person; 14 more were reportedly killed on Tuesday.

Idlib is Syria's last major rebel stronghold and an offensive there could mean the end of the war. It has certainly been a long and bloody conflict. But the Syrian --


ALLEN: -- government is looking to the future now with plans to rebuild and efforts to attract foreign business. CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more on this sales pitch from Damascus.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Even as airstrikes indicate an offensive on the last major rebel-held area may be imminent, the Syrian government is inviting international businesses back to the country.

Putting on its largest trade fair since the civil war started, the organizers say representatives from almost 50 countries are attending.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it will be attractive for all people around the world to see Syria, to see the real Syria.

Many of the companies showing off their products come from nations supporting the Assad government, like Russia, China and Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to have a long-term cooperation. This country and the businessmen in Syria. Now it's a good opportunity to us.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Syrian army backed by Russia and Iran has been making massive territorial gains, cornering the rebels in Idlib province in the north on the brink of defeat.

PLEITGEN: The Syrian government is trying to send a clear message with this trade fair. The war is coming to an end. Its forces are winning and now they're getting ready to move into a new phase of this conflict.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): That new phase is reconstruction of the many destroyed towns and cities in the country. But with Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies accused of war crimes, which they deny, many Western countries and companies are reluctant to get involved.

From Syrian officials, defiance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Things are going ahead and we are very optimistic. We want international companies to come and invest in this country and it's safe. It's secure.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): While the Damascus trade fair is a bright spot for Syria's government, there seems no doubt the road to reconstruction will be long and difficult for this war-torn country -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Damascus.


ALLEN: Next here on CNN NEWSROOM, verbal fireworks at the U.N. Security Council as the U.S. squarely blames Russia for the poisoning of a former Russian spy living in Britain.




ALLEN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. Here are our top stories.


[00:30:00] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Mr. Trump says the op-ed is very unfair and could be called treason.

Brazilian presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, was stabbed in the abdomen, during a campaign event Thursday. The front-runner was rushed to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. Doctors say he is in grave, but stable condition. One person has been arrested.

The leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran are set to discuss, Syria, in the coming hours, in Tehran. Turkey's president says he hopes to avert an offensive against rebel-held Idlib. The White Helmets rescue group says air and artillery strikes killed at least one person there, Thursday.

The U.S., Canada, France, and Germany say they are confidence that Britain has correctly identified the suspects of a nerve agent attack in the city of Salisbury, last March. The U.K. says these two men are officers in Russia's military intelligence.

They've been charged with -- in absentia, with smuggling the poison, Novichok, from Russia, with the intention of assassinating former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal. But at the U.N. Security Council, Thursday, Russia again, denied any knowledge of the attack.

For more about it, here's CNN's Richard Roth.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Novichok murder and attempted murder case spilled out into the historic Security Council chamber with another big-power verbal shootout between the United Kingdom and Russia. Britain said Russia was behind the attacks and won't cooperate in the investigation.

KAREN PIERCE, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: This is a broader issue even than the very serious matter of use of chemical weapons on the streets of Salisbury. This actually goes to the heart of the international system. It goes to the heart of the rules-based order.

We and our allies will want to think about how we push back on this, sort of, Russian activity, which is not only malign, it is also reckless, it's reckless to the individuals who get caught up in Russian machinations. It's reckless for the international system.

ROTH: The Russian ambassador said Moscow did offer to cooperate and was rejected by the United Kingdom. The Russian diplomat denounced the conclusions of the British investigation, which blamed two Russian operatives.

VASSILY NEBENZIA, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS (through translator): The number of inconsistencies and unresolved issues in connection with the new British so-called, "evidence" is off the charts.

ROTH: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley praised the United Kingdom for teaching a master class in how to prevent the spread of chemical weapons. Haley strongly criticized Moscow for its role in the affair.

NIKKI HAYLEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: It now falls on us to do our part. Rather than accept responsibility for its actions, the Russian government has offered only denials and counteraccusations, anything to deflect attention and distract from its guilt.

ROTH: The U.K. said it was important to bring to the world the latest on its investigation to prevent, "similar behavior" by Russian agents. The Russian ambassador told reporters Moscow is conducting its own probe. The British ambassador said dealing with Russia is like calling an arsonist to put out a fire. Richard Roth, CNN, United Nations.


ALLEN: Hollywood says good-bye to a megastar, when we return, a look back at the life and legacy of actor, Burt Reynolds.


[00:35:00] ALLEN: Tributes are pouring in, right now, for Hollywood star, Burt Reynolds. He died Thursday of cardiac arrest. He was 82. Reynolds starred in many film and T.V. roles during his 60-year career, including Smokey and the Bandit, Deliverance, and Evening Shade. Stephanie Elam looks back at his extraordinary life and career.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Burt Reynolds was one of the top box office draws in the 70s and 80s. But the big screen was not where he set out to be. No. The handsome, charismatic, Michigan-born actor, wanted to be a football star. Reynolds attended Florida State University on a football scholarship.

But an injury derailed his athletic career and put him on the path to Hollywood stardom. At first, Reynolds landed roles on television, including shows like Gun Smoke and Flipper, but it was the 1972 film, Deliverance, that was his breakthrough role.

BURT REYNOLDS, ACTOR: Who has the ability to survive?

ELAM: He also became a sex symbol, and posed nude in Cosmopolitan magazine. He capitalized on his success in 1974 sports drama, The longest Yard.

REYNOLDS: I'm going to fix it, OK?

ELAM: By 1977, the actor who was known for his signature mustache was riding high with the success of Smokey and the Bandit, alongside Sally Field.

REYNOLDS: What's your handle, son?

ELAM: The film became a successful franchise for Reynolds. So did the movie, Cannonball Run, in 1981.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't you do something? I mean, you're professionals.

REYNOLDS: This is our day off.

ELAM: He kept the laughs coming as the sheriff in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, co-starring Dolly Parton. Although his film career slowed down by the late 80s, Reynolds found success on television in the 1990s series Evening Shade. It ran for four seasons and earned him an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

While his T.V. career was on a high, his personal life, unravelled. He ended his five-year marriage to actress, Lonnie Anderson, in1993, and was involved in a messy custody battle over their adopted son, Quinton.

By 1996, Reynolds filed for bankruptcy.

REYNOLDS: Jack Horner, filmmaker.

ELAM: But things began to look up for the actor, when he landed Paul Thomas Anderson's film, Boogie Nights. The role led to his first Oscar nomination. Though he didn't win, he received critical acclaim in the hockey film, Mystery Alaska, in 1999.

REYNOLDS: I don't want to hear another word about a hockey game.

ELAM: Throughout the 2000s, he kept busy with a number of T.V. and film roles like the Dukes of Hazzard, and a career that took him from the football field to becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

The legendary actor will be remembered for decades of iconic roles in films and television. Still to many, Burt Reynolds will always be the bandit.


ALLEN: What a smile, what a laugh, what a -- what a guy. Let's bring in Turner Classic Movies host, Ben Mankiewicz, now. Hello, Ben. He joins us now from Los Angeles. Yes, what a loss, Ben. I mean, you just saw that smile from Burt Reynolds. He always just seemed like he was just having a good time no matter the role.

BEN MANKIEWICZ, HOST, TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES: Yes. I'm, you know, I'm really sad. I didn't know Burt Reynolds well. I did a couple of interviews with him, one with the cast of Deliverance at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival a few years ago.

And I did an interview that really, sort of, touched me about -- I think it was 2011, on our, sort of, road to Hollywood, we called it, before the TCM Classic Film Festival. It was at a theater in Tampa, the Tampa Theater. And there was a huge crowd there to see Burt Reynolds and the Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit was there.

And we were -- we were downstairs at the theater, and he had to walk up the stairs to get to the stage. And if you know anything about, sort of, the late stages of Burt Reynolds' life, he was in chronic pain, both from having played football, as the report you just aired indicated, and also from doing many of his own stunts, including on Deliverance, where he broke his tailbone.

And he was laboring up the stairs, and after we talked for a while, he said, you know, what are we going to talk about? I'm like, well, maybe, mostly Smokey and the Bandit. And then he said, you know, Ben, I've made like 80 pictures and only four of them are worth a damn.

And he said it with a, sort of, an ennui. And I thought, I just felt bad for him because, one, it isn't true. And after our talk downstairs, it was just -- I was left with the impression of a -- of a guy who thought that he could have done more with his career.

And, of course, he did a lot. I mean, he's the number one box office star for five years in the late 70s and early 80s.

[00:40:15] ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. I wonder why he felt that. I mean, every time we turned around, Burt Reynolds was doing something. And I was struck by something he said that I read, that he said he didn't take his crap too seriously, that he was in it just having fun. You kind of got that sense from him.

MANKIEWICZ: I think that's -- I think what you're touching on there is actually what he meant, is that he didn't take it too seriously, and he wishes that he had taken it more -- he was trained at the actors studio.

I think he thought that he could have been a more substantive star and not just a great big action star. You know, he turned down Jack Nicholson's role in Terms of Endearment. He told Milos Forman he didn't want to play the role that also went to Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

He had a chance to play James Bond after Sean Connery backed out of the franchise and he, sort of, said a British guy should do it. He didn't -- again, he felt like he didn't -- I sensed that he felt like he didn't challenge himself, and I think that's too bad because as we saw, whenever he did challenge himself, when he had real great material like Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, he really delivered.

ALLEN: Yes. So, mainly, perhaps, he relied on what he brought to the big screen, which was sexy and cool, because he certainly had that going for him.

MANKIEWICZ: Oh, he had that in spades. You know, just that wink, that Burt -- nobody winked, in Hollywood, like Burt Reynolds.

ALLEN: I know. It's so true. It's so true. What do you think about the big thing that he did when he posed semi-nude in a women's magazine?

MANKIEWICZ: Well, again, that was another example of, I think -- well, I don't think, we know it. He said it. His book, by the way, that he wrote in 2015, Enough About Me, is one of the great Hollywood memoirs.

But he wrote about it then. He talked about it, to me, and to other people. He regretted that enormously. He thought it would be a joke, sort of, spoofing Playboy. But, I guess, maybe we weren't ready for that joke. He said, you know, I was the only one who thought it was funny.

So, he regretted it instantly, and it made people, again, presume that he wasn't a serious person. And it comes right around, Deliverance, right at the time when Hollywood and the filmmaking industry and this incredibly vibrant time for American films from 1967 to 1976, when he could have been a big part of that.

And again, that decision, I think, undermined his credibility. He regretted it. He thought it was a good idea. He thought it would be seen as funny, and it wasn't, at least, not by enough people.

ALLEN: So, for any of the younger folks watching, what movies would you say are a must-see for Burt Reynolds?

MANKIEWICZ: Yes. Well, I mean, Deliverance, no question, Semi-Tough. Look, for me, I'm of the age when I was 10 years old when Star Wars came out. But the movie that I saw three or four times in 1977, wasn't Star Wars, it was Smokey and the Bandit. No question.

I mean, you should see everything by Paul Thomas Anderson. But you should definitely see -- you should definitely see Boogie Nights too. But Semi-Tough, The Longest Yard, he made a lot -- Sharky's Machine, which he also directed. I love Sharky's Machine.

There's a stick which is an Elmore Leonard adaptation. And you can get to 10, 12 quality Burt Reynolds movies, you know, Gator, White Lightning, they're all worth seeing.

ALLEN: Definitely people need to have a Burt Reynolds movie night party. That's for sure. Thanks so much, Ben. We appreciate your insights. Thank you.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. "WORLD SPORT" will start right after a break. I'll see you back here in 15 minutes.


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