Did you have a crush on Robby Benson from his ’70s tearjerkers like Ice Castles and Ode to Billy Joe? Well, aside from the fact that he’s now 63 (and a grandfather!), you’ll be happy to learn he’s still a romantic … but now just offscreen, with his wife of 37 years, singer Karla DeVito, 65.
“I am so grateful that I found her,” Robby exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “Both of us love to laugh, even at ourselves. Karla’s so much a part of who I am and how I think, she’s made my soul better, and hopefully I can do that for her.”
Together they’ve raised a filmmaker son, Zephyr, 27, and a singer daughter, Lyric, 34, who brought even more joy into their lives with her two kids. “Being a grandparent is the greatest feeling you could ever wish to experience!” Robby gushes.
Still, life hasn’t always been easy for the actor, who’s undergone four open-heart surgeries to correct a murmur and valve issues. These days he’s feeling better than ever, and after an eight-year break from the screen, he’s starring in the Hallmark Channel movie A Feeling of Home, playing a dad whose daughter comes back to help with the family farm.
“Nothing gave me that feeling of ‘I really want to do this’ until this script — it’s beautifully written,” he says. Closer caught up with Robby to talk about his teen idol past, what his life is like today and much more.
Scroll below to read our exclusive Q&A with Robby!
Tell us about your film A Feeling of Home.
I’ve loved the relationship of the father I play and his daughter, because as a parent, you always want to make sure there’s an open and honest relationship with your children. Even if they’re in their 20s or 30s, you wake up in the middle of the night still worried and hoping everything’s OK. The most important thing to me on the planet is my love for my wife and my family.
What can you share about voicing the Beast in Beauty and the Beast?
I identify with him more than probably any character I’ve ever played, because he’s funny, passionate and gets frustrated when things aren’t fair to him in his mind. He’s got a lot to learn and learns it from a strong, smart woman — and that’s my life!
You’ve often been cast as a sensitive guy. How close is that to you?
I’m sensitive in my spirit and soul, but if you think someone that’s been in show business for 53 years doesn’t have a thick skin … Put me in front of a Mack truck and I’ll think I can actually knock it down when it hits me!
You’ve done several projects with Burt Reynolds, starting with Lucky Lady and The End. What was he like as a person?
He was one of my closest friends. He did me a favor and played Karla’s father in [1990’s] Modern Love, and when he saw me direct, he asked me to direct Evening Shade, which had some of the best actors that ever walked the earth. After that, my directing career shot out of a cannon!
What were the best and worst things about being a teen idol?
The best thing is interacting with people. If you stop and look into their eyes, nothing gets out of hand. That happened on Ice Castles. There were about 8,000 [restless extras], so I said I’d stay to sign autographs, and then they were the best crowd. [Later] I broke my hip during a hockey scene, so I was at home in agony and put on the TV. These young women were screaming, “I saw him! I touched him!” Then they showed my picture. I was like, “That can’t be right.” It was really funny. I never thought of myself as a star.
Do you still get recognized?
Oh sure, and they want me to do the Beast voice for their phones!
You auditioned for the role of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars …
I got a call from Francis Ford Coppola, so I read the script and said, “What’s an R2-D2?” They said, “No, no, that’s a secret.” I realized that this probably wasn’t for me.
Any other cool Hollywood stories?
I was in the last scene of The Godfather: Part II, where Al Pacino looks out on Lake Tahoe. I walk up to him and tell him I want to do what he does, but we waited three days in overcast weather and they never got [shots they needed]. Then I got a call from Mr. Coppola saying, “Robby, I don’t want to shoot that scene anymore — because I never want there to be a chance for a Godfather Part III!”
What are your kids up to?
My son’s written, directed and starred in a feature film called Straight Outta Tompkins. I executive produced that, and he was able to make it for under $200,000 in New York City and it was a union film. It shows you how brilliant he is. I produced my daughter’s album, Lyric’s Love Light Revolution. My daughter’s married and has two children, so we’re grandparents!
What’s it like being a grandfather to your little grandkids, Kingsley and Aurora?
It makes me reevaluate my hours and priorities. This is a very healthy time, filled with even more love — if that’s possible! I hope I’m the best I can possibly be as a grandfather, father and husband.
How did your 37 years with Karla start?
She took over for Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway. She played Mabel, I played Frederic and Kevin Kline played the pirate king. Karla and I fell in love eight shows a week and got married! I was so in love with her from the moment I met her. And I lived my entire life in show business and I’ve really only met one or two true artists. Karla is one of them. We’ve been writing songs since we fell in love — we sold one for The Breakfast Club, one for Diana Ross.
How are you feeling? In your 2012 memoir I’m Not Dead …Yet!, you wrote about your open-heart surgeries.
2010 was the last one. My surgeon was Gosta Pettersson at the Cleveland Clinic, and because of his brilliance, I run three miles a day and swim 2,500 meters four times a week.
That’s great! What’s up next for you?
I wrote a song for a movie [I act in], Apple Seed [now playing festivals]. I’d love to direct or write a movie or a Broadway show. Hallmark movies are kind, gentle, about people who care. And I think that that’s good medicine right now for where we are in our country.
Any life lessons you can share?
Don’t think of yourself as a victim — you have choices, so try to make the best ones you can. Also, my son says you don’t have to be tortured to be an artist. You can enjoy it. I think of myself as a worker and he keeps saying, “No, Dad, you’re an artist.” How beautiful is that?
For more on Robby Benson, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!