Robert Redford: 10 Facts Most Fans Never Knew About The Handsome Heartthrob

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

Over his long career in showbiz, Robert Redford continues to prove that he’s just as talented behind the camera as he is in front of it.

Since his iconic role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid back in 1967, the handsome actor has made countless audiences swoon with his rugged good looks. Of course, it’s the substance Robert also brings to each role and film he touches that keeps us coming back for more.

But do you know what classic role he tried to nab right before he played the Sundance Kid — or what heartbreaking tragedy he endured before his career even took off? There’s so much under the surface that even folks who claim to be one of Robert’s biggest fans might not know.

Take a look to learn more about Robert Redford’s incredible life and career.

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1. He Had Polio As A Child

robert redford in 1964

While directing his portion of the six-part 3D documentary series Cathedrals of Culture back in 2014, Robert chose to focus on the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California.

According to reports from Express, he was inspired by his own mild battle with polio to pay homage to Jonas Salk, the scientist who developed the first vaccine for the disease.

2. He Was A Terrible Student

robert redford in all the president's men

In a 1980 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Robert said that his wandering mind kept him from excelling in classrooms:

“All I could think about was how to get myself out, once I was in, without relying on a bell ringing. Having to go to the bathroom, having a stomachache, forgetting to call home — I used them all. Then usually all I’d do is walk around the yard a little and go back in.”

3. He Had Some Run-Ins With The Law In His Youth

robert redford and paul newman

Robert admitted in a 1980 interview with Success magazine that he got pinched by the law more than a few times in his younger days. These were mostly petty crimes, though, like stealing hubcaps and breaking into his neighbors’ backyards to use their pools while they were away.

4. His Father Was A Milkman

milkman cart

Charles Robert Redford Sr. earned money for his family as a milkman before becoming an accountant for an oil company.

5. He Was In A Fraternity In College

kappa sigma fraternity house

Robert pledged and became a brother with the Kappa Sigma fraternity while attending University of Colorado on a baseball scholarship.

According to a quote in People magazine back in 1997, he became “the campus drunk” following his mother’s death and left after just a year to travel Europe and study art.

He was later awarded an honorary degree from the university in 1987.

6. He Got Married In Vegas

robert redford and jane fonda

Shown above as a newlywed with Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park, in real life Robert married his first wife, Lola Van Wagenen, in a secret Las Vegas ceremony on September 12, 1958.

According to Vanity Fair, they had a second ceremony five weeks later for their friends and family.

7. His First Child Passed Away As An Infant

baby crib

After a year of marriage, Robert and Lola welcomed their son Scott. At just 5-months-old, he tragically died of sudden infant death syndrome.

Robert opened up about the horrible loss in AARP the Magazine back in 2011, saying: “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.”

His oldest surviving son also battled health issues that led to two separate liver transplants.

8. He Was Too Charming For An Early Role

the graduate

Before making his big break with the film adaptation of Barefoot in the Park, which he also performed on Broadway, and teaming up with Paul Newman for what would become his most iconic role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Robert was turned down by his friend and director Mike Nichols.

Mike was quoted by Vanity Fair explaining that despite Robert’s eagerness for the lead role in The Graduate, he wasn’t right because he could “never play a loser.”

9. He Fought To Keep His Mustache As Sundance

robert redford and paul newman

Author Michael Feeney Callan revealed in Robert Redford: The Biography that studio head Richard Zanuck wanted him to shave the fuzz from his upper lip before they began filming, but Robert held his ground.

“It was authentic. I got my way.”

10. His Directorial Debut Won Him An Oscar


Robert’s first film behind the lens, 1980’s Ordinary People, earned him Academy Awards for both Best Picture and Best Director. Star Timothy Hutton picked up the award for Best Supporting Actor and Alvin Sargent brought them to a total of four Oscars with his screenplay.

Were you surprised by any of these facts about Robert Redford?

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