He has been through the worst heartaches as a child and parent, but never showed his pain to the world. He continued to stun the world with his performance and has created a legacy that will remain for generations.
The legendary actor Robert Redford is a man of few words when it comes to the heartaches that have followed him all his life. He waxes eloquent when it comes to his inspirations for roles, but ask him about his personal life and you would find him a different person. He glosses over the most difficult periods in a few words, his biographer of 14 years found. The tragic phases are so hard to speak about that he prefers to keep them within himself.
He has always immersed himself in work and even refuses to take a break from it on his birthday. For his 80th birthday in 2016, he told Mirror UK, "I don’t like marking time like that, I like to keep rolling forward.”
And roll forward he has. While he decided to take retirement at the age of 82 last year with the Avengers: Endgame, he has reconsidered and will now also be in HBO's upcoming Watchmen series, according to Newsrama. However, what the world remembers him for is playing one of the lead roles in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He's also wowed audiences in The Sting, Indecent Proposal, and Out Of Africa.
Despite his many successes, hardly ever would you hear him talk about how his first child died or how he learned to deal with heartbreak at a young age. “People think it’s been easy for me. That’s hard to live with. It’s so untrue. I am not into shared soul searching," he told his biographer Michael Callan. "The hardest thing in the world is when your children have problems. There have been so many hits on our family that no one knows about and I don’t want them to for my family’s sake.”
Born in 1936, he didn't get much time with father Charles, a milkman with long hours. His uncle David was his father figure but he lost him when he was 9. In 1945, David died in Luxembourg, a part of General Patton’s Third Army. When Robert was at the cusp of becoming an adult, at the age of 18, he lost his 40-year-old mother who died during childbirth.
The grief from losing his mom struck him hard and he started drinking too much, which led to him losing his scholarship for the University of Colorado, according to Express UK. He was caught stealing beers and breaking into empty houses to drink all night. After his dismissal from the college, he enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Art, and acting became his passion.
It was there that he met a Mormon girl called Lola van Wagenen in 1957. The couple eloped to Las Vegas and two years later they were in Manhattan where he performed his first Broadway play. However, one November night in 1959, he kissed his 10-week-old son Scott goodnight and put him to sleep. By the next morning, the baby was dead because of cot death.
“It was really hard. We were very young. I had my first theatre job, which didn’t pay much. We didn’t know anything about sudden infant death syndrome so as a parent you blame yourself. It creates a scar that never completely heals," he said, according to Mirror UK.
However, this wasn't the end of the pain and tragedy. Three years later, their second son Jamie was born seven weeks premature and had a respiratory problem. “The doctors gave Jamie a 40-60 chance but he hung in. Over a month his condition improved and then he stabilized. It was a colossal relief for us," he said, according to Express UK. Jamie suffered from ill-health his entire life. As a teen, he developed ulcerative colitis, that required colon removal and two liver transplants at the age of 30. It failed the first time and Redford called it the worst 12 weeks of his life. Meanwhile, his 28-year marriage with Lola broke down, but both parents united for the sake of their son.
Another tragedy that befell his family was the murder of his daughter Shauna’s fiancé Sid Wells, in Boulder, Colorado, in 1983. Wells was shot in the back of the head near Shauna's home. However, the suspect arrested was released due to lack of evidence. The protective father stopped his film The Natural and flew to be with his daughter. “The lack of closure in Wells’ death would be a terrible burden on the family for years to come,” writes Callan. Redford said that he found his daughter “convulsed with confusion, in a terrible state.”
He has proved his acting prowess multiple times but his personal side remains a mystery and hidden from the world at large. This private man's deep pain may never be understood by anyone entirely.