Their marriage only lasted five years, but the fallout from the contentious split between Loni Anderson and Burt Reynolds seemed to go on forever with the late Smokey and the Bandit star regularly baiting his estranged wife in the press. “I used to say to him, ‘Why did you say that?'” the 73-year-old beauty exclusively confided to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “People don’t realize that [even in the worst times] we always kept in contact.”

Ten months after Burt’s death from a heart attack at age 82, Loni opened up to Closer about their turbulent relationship and how they found the grace to forgive each other. “We were friends first and friends last,” she explained at the Los Angeles opening of Feinstein’s at Vitello’s supper club. “It’s time to move on.”

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Soon after meeting on The Merv Griffin Show in 1981, Burt and the WKRP in Cincinnati bombshell became inseparable. “I am a very lucky man,” Burt gushed during their 1988 nuptials at a chapel he built on his Jupiter, Florida, property for the occasion. “I married Prince Charming,” Loni raved. They capped their happiness by adopting son Quinton that summer.

But it wasn’t long before their fairy-tale romance turned ugly and their separation made headlines. Outspoken Burt accused Loni of adultery, bad parenting and maxing out his credit cards. Loni initially stayed silent, but in 1995 she claimed Burt had been violent. “The worst part was losing custody of Quinton,” Burt said in 2016.

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Loni insisted that she and Burt put all their hostility aside years ago for the sake of Quinton, 30. “We have this wonderful child together. Having a son was a big event in our lives and so everything revolved around him,” she said. 

Quinton, who played peacemaker throughout his life, even brought his parents together one last time before Burt’s death last fall. “We went out to dinner and [Burt] brought me flowers,” says Loni, who remembers the sweeter side of her ex-husband. “Burt could be quiet, shy and self-deprecating. He was a bookworm and we loved to read mysteries aloud to one another so that we could share them.” Together, they’d spend many happy hours guessing about the ending of those stories. “He was a voracious reader.”

With a bittersweet twinge, Loni returned to Burt’s Florida estate after his death. “There are lots of memories there,” admitted the actress, who is working with Quinton to build a permanent memorial to his father. “Burt’s adored,” Loni noted. “We are working on [creating] a place for people to go to remember him.”

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