Few names are more legendary in Hollywood than Robert Redford’s. His acting career spanned an incredible 60 years and gave us classics such as All The President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He’s also produced and directed movies, championed independent cinema through the Sundance Film Festival, and remained an active nature conservationist. Behind closed doors, though, Robert Redford is more than just an American cinema giant. Here are a few stories about the man that you’ve likely never heard.
He always had a plan for his life
Redford always had a plan for how his life would turn out. "I grew up in a situation where you were either gonna drown in it or you were gonna swim out of it," the actor told Esquire in 2017.
"It was a very lower-working-class environment. We weren't impoverished, but we were on the lower end of things. I decided, 'I'm gonna bust out of this and go as far as I can.'" Yet many parts of Redford's early life are mired in tragedy.
He suffered a tragic loss early on
Before Redford became an actor, he grew up in Santa Monica, California. His father, Charles, worked as a milkman and had to put in long hours to support his family, so the young boy spent a lot of time with his uncle, David. Fluent in several different languages, David was also an athlete with great promise who taught the future star how to play football.
Redford was therefore crushed when his uncle died in 1945 during WWII. David served as a member of General Patton’s Third Army and was killed in Luxembourg when the jeep he and his squad were in came under a hail of gunfire. Redford was only eight years old at the time.
His mother died shockingly young
Ten years later, an 18-year-old Redford became a lost soul after another family tragedy in which his beloved mother, Martha, died unexpectedly at the age of 41. At the time, the teen was attending the University of Colorado, but his emotional devastation caused him to turn to alcohol for solace.
He stole beer from storerooms and would break into empty houses to drink alone. In the end, it cost him his baseball scholarship. "I lost my scholarship pretty quickly after I discovered drinking," the actor once admitted.
Redford lost his way as a young man
Redford, unsure of what to do with his life, went to find himself in Europe. He had aspirations of becoming a painter and lived in Spain, Italy, and France at various points. "When I was in France, then Italy and Spain, I had the comfort — it was also a little scary — of knowing no one knows where I am, nobody knows me here," Redford told Esquire.
Unfortunately, Europe didn’t work out on a professional level, and he eventually made his way back to America. The future star studied painting in Brooklyn, but then found his true calling.