Robert Redford Opens Up About Infant Son's Death
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans Posted Jan 21st 2011 12:05PM
Redford's son with first wife Lola Van Wagenen died of sudden infant death syndrome when he was only 5 months old, in 1959.
"It was really hard," Redford, 74, tells AARP The Magazine for its March/April cover story. "We were very young. I had my first theater job, which didn't pay much. We didn't know anything about SIDS, so the only thing you think is that you've done something wrong. As a parent, you tend to blame yourself. That creates a scar that probably never completely heals."
Redford and Van Wagenen, whom he divorced in 1985 after almost 30 years of marriage, had three other children together. The actor, director and founder of the Sundance Film Festival remained single until 2009, when he married longtime girlfriend Sibylle Szaggars.
"She's a very special person," he says of his current wife. "She's younger than I am, and European, which I like, so that's a whole new life."
As for how he's been able to stay private, even as he rose to stardom and became one of the greatest and most prolific film actors of his generation, Redford says it has always just been about the work for him. Until recently, that is.
"When I got into the business, I had this naive idea that I'd let my work speak for me. I just was never interested in talking about myself," he tells AARP. "However, we're in such a different time and celebrity is so much in the mainstream. I thought, 'I might as well enter this zone, but go a toe at a time.'"
He also has treated fame very gingerly.
"I dealt with it the way I wanted to," Redford says. "I felt that if you were fortunate enough to have success, you should shadowbox with it but never embrace it, because it has a demon side."
It still sometimes surprises the star of 'The Horse Whisperer,' 'Indecent Proposal,' 'The Sting' and more than 60 other films that he became an actor in the first place, he says.
"I never imagined being an actor. I wanted to get a formal education in art so I could go back to Europe and paint," he says. "Something clicked. It was the beginning of everything coming into focus with me."
At 74, Redford still remembers "going into hiding" when he turned 40 -- while his close friend Jane Fonda threw herself a big bash for the same birthday. Since then, he has learned to accept but not obsess about aging and stay active along the way.
"I ride horses, ski, play pretty hard tennis. I still have energy. When that starts to shut down, I might start to think about age," he says. "When you get older, you learn certain life lessons. You apply that wisdom, and suddenly you say, 'Hey, I've got a new lease on this thing. So let's go.'"
Redford, whose most recent project is as director of 'The Conspirator,' does take issue with being called a "living legend" because it makes him sound close to the end. And he is anything but.
"That really bothers me," he tells the magazine. "Does that mean I'm bronzed? Whoa! It's not over yet, folks!"
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