Oscar winner Robert Redford announced his retirement from acting at age 81
Bank robbers desperate to pull off one last job spend their retirement in the Scrubs rather than the Costas.
But Robert Redford has set an example to all by announcing his retirement at the age of 81 following the completion of The Old Man & The Gun. Ironically enough his swan song is a film about a bank robber who robbed 17 banks, got caught 17 times and went to prison 17 times. His saving grace was that he also escaped 17 times.
“Never say never but I pretty well concluded that this would be it for me in terms of acting and [I’ll] move towards retirement after this ’cause I’ve been doing it since I was 21,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s enough.’ And why not go out with something that’s very upbeat and positive?”
Redford’s retirement from the screen draws the curtains on a career that lasted almost 60 years, in which he appeared in 45 movies and directed 10. His portfolio includes many films that proved to be boxoffice gold: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969), The Way We Were, The Sting (both 1973) and All The President’s Men (1976).
Despite this commercial success Redford never won an Oscar for his acting but he did win one for his direction of Ordinary People, the story of the disintegration of an upper middle-class family following the death of one of their sons in a boating accident starring Mary Tyler Moore Redford’s first big break came in 1967 when he appeared in Barefoot In The Park opposite Jane Fonda. From that moment on the chisel-jawed heart-throb from the Californian beach town of Santa Monica was on every casting director’s wish list.
Never say never but I pretty well concluded that this would be it for me in terms of acting and [I’ll] move towards retirement after this ’cause I’ve been doing it since I was 21
But when he was hired to play the Sundance Kid in George Roy Hill’s epic tale of banditry in the Wild West two years later, Redford was very much the supporting actor to the man playing Butch Cassidy: Paul Newman.
Indeed a film that was originally designed to be called The Sundance Kid And Butch Cassidy had the names in the title reversed to reflect Newman’s superior pulling power.
It proved a spectacular success and its director had no hesitation in casting both Redford and Newman in his next big hit The Sting.
The story of a betting-shop con won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, and earned Redford his sole acting nomination. It also went on to become one of the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time.
But even better was to come. While Redford was promoting a film about a Senate race called The Candidate in 1972 he hung out with a lot of political journalists and there was only one topic on everyone’s lips.
“They were all gossiping about a break-in at a campaign headquarters,” he says.
“And I became intrigued by the profiles of the two guys writing about it, Woodward and Bernstein. And then President Nixon resigned over the break-in and a lot of people said it was yesterday’s news – but I said, ‘No, it’s the dynamic between these two guys that’ll make it sing.”
Redford had sufficient confidence in his judgment to shell out $450,000 for the film rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s book – an enormous sum in those days. The result was the movie All The President’s Men, the tale of how two reporters from The Washington Post exposed the Watergate scandal and brought down the man in the White House.
“We took all the elements of their work – the typewriters, telephones, pens on paper – and kicked up the sound,” says Redford. “Every scene where the typewriter is used there’s a real bang. What does it sound like? It sounds like a weapon.”
The bean counters at Warner Brothers may well have been concerned as the budget ballooned from $5million to $8.5million but they need not have worried – it went on take more than $70million worldwide.
A young Robert Redford alongside and Natalie Wood in the film Inside Daisy Clover
By now Redford could do no wrong and Brubaker, The Natural and Out Of Africa all did well, with the latter garnering no fewer than seven Oscars.
But critical success coincided with private heartbreak. In the same year that Out Of Africa was released, 1985, Redford got divorced from his wife of 27 years Lola Van Wagenen, the mother of his four children.
The couple had got married when Redford was just 22 and Lola, who was then a 19-year-old Mormon, dropped out of college to settle down and rear a family. At the time Redford was a struggling stage actor with just $300 to his name and they had to borrow a car to get home from the ceremony.
But in the years that followed he graduated to bigger and bigger parts on Broadway and it was one of these that led to his break-out film role. After appearing as the stuffy husband in Neil Simon’s romantic comedy Barefoot In The Park he was cast in the movie version. He was on his way.
Anxious to avoid being typecast as a handsome blond sex symbol he turned down the part ultimately played by Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, which had originally been written for a young Adonis. But, as we have seen, stardom soon beckoned and by the mid-1980s Redford was a well-established A-lister.
Robert Redford and Demi Moore star in the film Indecent Proposal
Robert Redford with Barbara Streisand following his Oscar win
By now he and Lola had grown apart following a married life that had been fraught with parental trauma. Their first child Scott died of cot death and second son David developed liver complications from ulcerative colitis in his teens and had to undergo two liver transplants.
In an interview in 2001 Redford admitted: “It is a horrible thing and to live with that as a family it is bad enough to live with it when you own it, when it is yours but it is very hard on a family trying to find out how to deal with it. You feel such terrible impotence. It was hard but he is all right now, I am happy to say.
“I never wanted to be one of those divorced showbusiness casualties – so predictable! I wanted to prove that a marriage could last and prove the business wrong. But I couldn’t.”
He went on to be linked with actresses Debra Winger and Sonia Braga and the costume designer Kathy O’Rear. But since the late 1990s he has been with Sibylle Szaggars, a German abstract artist 20 years his junior.
As Redford grew into middle age he seamlessly evolved into a silver fox and the hits kept coming. In Indecent Proposal he was the multimillionaire businessman who tests a young couple’s morals, and in The Horse Whisperer he played the cowboy with a remarkable gift for understanding his four-legged friends.
Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the 1974 film The Great Gatsby
Robert Redford directs Brad Pitt during the filming of A River Runs Through It
These days Redford is a member of the great and the good. His establishment of independent movie showcase the Sundance Film Festival earned him the title “the Godfather of Indie”.
In 2002 he got his second Oscar when he was awarded the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. And in 2016 President Barack Obama honoured him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – presumably in recognition of his activism on behalf of the environment and Native Americans as well as his Hollywood triumphs.
Redford even got married again. He and Szaggars tied the knot in her native Hamburg in 2009.
Of late there have been a few turkeys of course. The Last Castle (2001) and The Conspirator (2010) were both notable flops.
But as Redford decrees that his film career fades to black, he can look back on a body of work that will ensure he goes down in history as one of the Hollywood greats.