In his nineties, Robert Redford, one of Hollywood’s last remaining Golden Age icons, is still working. Despite a six-decade career that has included Academy Awards as a director and actor, the founding of Sundance, and the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, little is known about Redford.
Like many of his colleagues, the Californian has always kept his personal life private. As a result, you may be unaware that the star of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and All the President’s Men, as well as the director of Ordinary People, Quiz Show, and The Horse Whisperer, has endured a personal catastrophe.
Before participating in Tall Story in 1960, Redford had been through more tribulations than most people in a lifetime. His subsequent years were not much better either. 11 includes childhood diseases, near-death experiences, marriage breakups, and several traumatic losses, demonstrating that being an award-winning movie celebrity does not make you immune to problems.
In 2011, Robert Redford partnered with Michael Feeney Callan on a biography of his life. One of several shocking revelations was the actor’s childhood polio.
Even while it wasn’t serious, the future Hollywood actor had to spend several weeks in bed aged 11 after overexerting himself while swimming in the water. “Before the Salk vaccination, the horror of polio hung over your youth because all you saw were individuals in iron lungs,” he told NPR.
Redford paid tribute to Jonas Salk, the scientist who created a vaccine for the disease, in a 2014 short film. The Oscar winner directed cathedrals of Culture, a 3D documentary on San Diego’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies. “I was around when there was still a polio pandemic… so when Jonas Salk invented the vaccine, it was earth-shattering news,” he told Express in 2014.
Was Robert Redford a teen runaway? That’s right—during high school, the now-famous actor was a street gang member in Van Nuys. Every day, boys would attempt dangerous dares. One of them almost killed Redford.
The gang challenged the future Oscar winner to a high-rise jump to prove he wasn’t a coward. “Early fear-fighting…” says Robert Redford: The Biography (2011). I saw two possibilities. Fears may either rule you or help you.”
After proving his manliness and avoiding breaking every bone, young Redford was allowed to continue wreaking havoc on the gang. Their favorite pastime was stealing alcohol from nearby establishments. At 16, the star was apprehended for possessing stolen jewelry, terminating his criminal career.
Attendees were moved to tears by Robert Redford’s moving tribute to his mother during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival’s Utah Women’s Leadership Celebration (Closer Weekly). In 1955, Martha Redford died of a hemorrhage at 40. Her death was caused by a blood condition induced by her twin daughters’ stillbirth eight years before.
Closer Weekly reported that the Hollywood actor didn’t make his mother’s life easy as a teen, but she always backed him. “She just thought that all things considered, I had something in me that would turn out okay.” Martha passed away five years before her son’s film debut.
Robert continued to praise his mother’s grin, adventurous spirit, and positive approach. He told a star-studded audience, including close friend Jane Fonda, that he regretted not appreciating her more: “I took her for granted because kids were like that. I’m sorry I didn’t thank her before she died.”
Robert Redford experienced loss when his uncle, who had been like a second father to him, died. The actor rarely saw his father, Charles, because of his long, unsociable milkman hours.
As a result, young Robert developed a close relationship with his Uncle David, an all-American all-rounder who could play football and speak four languages. On the football field, they practiced chucking.
When General Patton’s Third Army drafted his uncle into World War II, Robert lost his father for the second time. He never came back. David was killed in 1945 when his Jeep was caught in the crossfire on a Luxembourg bridge. “The family’s response was never discussed,” Redford told NPR. It happened without hesitation. It was. That was most likely in the family structure… “Everyone had moved on.”
Robert Redford may have turned his back on crime after a run-in with the cops in his late teens. He wasn’t ready to integrate into society. At CU, the future star was a party boy.
In Robert Redford: The Biography, Michael Callan Feeney said, “Redford had become liked in the drinking circles but was known as a loose cannon” (2011). The author does not go into detail on Redford’s Kappa Sigma experiences. It wasn’t pretty when he got expelled after only 18 months.
Redford’s education was not over. He studied painting in Florence, Paris, and New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts after losing his scholarship. Two of Redford’s children, Shauna and Jamie Redford, were later accepted by the University of Colorado.
In the 1950s, Robert Redford was doing well. He married Lola Van Wagenen and had his first kid, Scott, after making his Broadway debut in Tall Story.
Scott died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome at the age of ten weeks in November 1959, devastating his world. Redford was horrified, blaming himself for not checking on the baby sooner. It took him almost 50 years to express his grief.
“Tough,” the Out of Africa star was reported as saying by Mirror. Young. First employment in the theater, minimal pay. Parents blame themselves because we were unaware of SIDS. It leaves a permanent scar.”
Three years after Scott’s tragic death, Robert Redford faced the prospect of losing his second son. He also put his wife Lola’s life at danger.
David James Redford was born prematurely due to the same condition that took the life of Patrick Kennedy in 1962. According to writer Michael Feeney Callan’s book Robert Redford: The Biography, the infant had a 40% chance of survival due to Hyaline Membrane Disease. Fortunately, both the child and his mother survived. “It was enormous,” Robert added.
The Oscar winner acknowledged his children’s difficulties in a 1998 People interview. “I’m considered fortunate. That’s difficult. False. The worst problems are those involving your children. No one knows about the many hits on my family for the sake of my family.”
Tragic events struck Robert Redford’s daughter again in 1983. In an unresolved mystery, Shauna Redford’s journalism student boyfriend Sid Wells was tragically shot at his University of Colorado apartment in the back of the head.
Thayne Smika, his roommate due to pay rent that day, was the key suspect in the heinous murder. Smika was arrested, but a grand jury declined to indict him. He hasn’t been seen since 1986! Smika’s car was found abandoned in Beverly Hills that year, implying he fled America.
In 2010, new evidence for a case review complicated the narrative. Boulder County’s district attorney approved an arrest affidavit. Despite age-progressed mugshots and increasing efforts to find him, Smika remains large. “It’s like a little opened door with a dark room beyond it,” Redford said after attending Wells’ funeral in 1997.
Natalie Wood may have influenced Robert Redford’s breakout Golden Globe-winning role as closeted film star Wade Lewis in Inside Daisy Clover. The actress, who was much larger at the time, reportedly recommended to Warner Bros., the man she met in high school for the 1965 play. A year later, This Property Is Condemned would feature the close friends.
Wood died mysteriously in 1981. The actress perished while kayaking on Catalina Island with her husband, actor Robert Wagner, and actor friend Christopher Walken. Since Wood’s disappearance, there has been a lot of speculation.
Redford, a reserved man, has frequently mentioned his friendship with his pal. He narrated a Turner Classic Movies tribute to Wood and was interviewed for the HBO documentary What Remains Behind, which will air in 2020.
In the mid-1980s, Robert Redford and Lola Van Wagenen were Hollywood’s most steady marriage. After Scott’s tragic death, the couple married in 1958 and had three children: Shauna, James, and Amy. So it was a surprise when they announced their breakup a decade later.
The Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid star told The Telegraph in 2001, 16 years after the split, that the relationship ended naturally: “Moving on was mutual and right. We love, care, and are good friends. It’s fantastic, and I believe we deserve credit because the pupils performed admirably. I never intended to be a celebrity divorcee—how stereotypical! I intended to debunk the business by proving marriage could last. “I couldn’t do it.”
Redford took his time remarrying. In 2009, after 25 years of divorce, he married German artist Sibylle Szaggars. They had been living together at Redford’s Sundance mansion since the mid-1990s.
Nobody should live past the age of two children. Robert Redford and Lola Van Wagenen will lose their 58-year-old son James to liver cancer in October 2020.
James Redford, born three years after his baby brother Scott died, had liver problems his whole life. After undergoing liver transplant surgery in 1993, he founded an awareness institute. While awaiting a transplant, the documentary filmmaker acquired bile-duct cancer in 2019. Kyle, the mother of his two children, tweeted about his death a year later: “Heartbroken. Many people admired his lovely, insightful existence.”
According to Cindi Berger, Robert was “mourning with his family at this difficult moment and asking for privacy.” “Child loss is traumatic,” says the author. Jamie was devoted to his family. His legacy lives on via his children, art, films, and environmental advocacy.”