When it comes to Hollywood greats, few are greater than Robert Redford. Incredible as it may seem, the iconic actor, filmmaker and founder of the Sundance Institute in 1981 turns 80 on Thursday. Born Aug. 18, 1936 in Santa Monica, California, he’s played a big-game hunter in “Out of Africa,” an easygoing WASP with no particular political bent in “The Way We Were,” a hiker of the Appalachian Trail in “A Walk in the Woods,” and so much more. And we’ve loved him every time. Here are five reasons this legend still makes us swoon.
1. He not only talks the talk when it comes to conservation, he walks the walk.
Redford is not only an actor and director, but he also is a longtime conservationist and a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit that works to protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places. For years, he’s called on Americans to demand clean energy and reject dirty fuels. In 2015, he addressed the United Nations to urge immediate action on climate change. And in an editorial published Aug. 16 in Time magazine, Redford urged President Barack Obama to do more to protect sacred land in Utah. “Red-rock canyons, wide-open plateaus and steep, rugged mountains: Utah has been my home for over half a century,” he wrote. “I feel a strong sense of connection to this state, its people and its landscapes, as many of us feel toward the places we call home. Bear Ears, a hallowed region for Native Americans, should be a national monument.”
2. He’s never been one to rest on his laurels and has always fought against being typecast as a “pretty boy.”
Redford has spoken often of how he refused to trade on his sex appeal, seeking out more challenging roles that stretched him as an actor. One such role was his appearance as a cocky member of the U.S. ski team who clashed with coach Gene Hackman in the 1969 film “Downhill Racer.” Another key star turn for Redford came in the dark 1972 political drama “The Candidate,” in which he played a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Redford went on to score two huge hits in 1973 with “The Way We Were” and “The Sting,” where he received his first Academy Award nomination for the latter. His roles continued to transcend his pretty-boy looks as he next starred in such great and wide-ranging films as “The Great Gatsby,” “Out of Africa,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Three Days of the Condor,” and “All the President’s Men.” In 1980, he switched to directing by making “Ordinary People,” which won an Oscar for best-picture.
3. He’s not all over social media.
Some people may not like this, but we find it refreshing when a celebrity prefers to live his life out of the public eye ― especially these days. He told “Extra” in July: “Tweets and Facebook, all these avenues of going public with yourself that don’t appeal to me, I think I owe the public a story to be told I don’t necessarily owe them my life… I want to treat that as something special to me. I don’t want to broadcast that, simply because I want to keep that to myself.”
4. In the same vein, and even before social media, he’s always opted to keep his private life, well, private.
Most people have no idea that Redford’s life has been marred on more than one occasion by tragedy. Not only did a beloved father figure ― his uncle ― die in action during World War II, but Redford’s mother died when she was 40 and Redford was only a teenager. In 1957, he married a Mormon girl, Lola van Wagenen. But soon after they wed, their 10-week-old son, Scott, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which people knew very little about at the time.
“As a parent, you blame yourself,” Robert says of the guilt he carried for not having gone to check on the baby. “That creates a scar that never completely heals.”
Later, another son, Jamie, suffered major health problems, ultimately undergoing two life-saving liver transplants.
Redford’s marriage to Lola ended in 1985. He went on to marry a German painter named Sibylle Szaggars in 2009.
But to this day the notoriously press-shy Redford reveals very little of his past heartaches. Even the only biography ever authorized by the actor, simply titled “Robert Redford” ― written by Michael Feeney Callan and published in 2012 ― pays scant attention to his personal tragedies.
5. He doesn’t let age slow him down and continues to pursue projects he’s passionate about.
At this stage, Redford could easily sit back and rest on his laurels. But the Hollywood veteran has been traveling the globe this month to promote his new film “Pete’s Dragon,” which opened Aug. 12 to rave reviews. He said he did the film for his grandchildren.
“I have a family, and my family has a family. The span of my grandkids goes from 5 years old, 7 years old to 24 years old so there’s a big span there, and to make a film like this that covers that amount of time, it just feels good,” Redford said.
He went on to add that he hopes the film will inspire moviegoers.
“I hope they take away the idea that the value of the imagination and feeding the imagination with stories like this. Remembering how valuable the word magic was as a child. Try to keep that alive in your life,” Redford said.
All we can say is, what a guy. We hope you keep making movies for a long time to come, and enjoy a very happy birthday, Robert Redford. Here’s to many more years of you pursuing your passions!