He said goodbye to the love of his life ... and has regretted it every day since ..
Every February, an elderly man, now grey and stooping, walks alone through Forest Lawns Cemetery, Palm Springs, California, and places a wreath of roses on the grave of the woman he loved and lost.
Now 78 and in frail health, former Hollywood heart-throb Burt Reynolds never misses the anniversary of the death of the woman he never married but who he regards as the love of his life - Dinah Shore, still remembered as the golden girl of movies.
They had met in 1970 when Burt Reynolds was 35 and Hollywood's most sought-after leading man. She was 53, now the grande dame of TV talk shows, cool, aloof and still hauntingly beautiful.
Reynolds had burst into movies from college football and his dark macho looks made him the star of half a dozen big-earning Westerns and the dream lover of millions of women fans.
He had married and divorced TV Laugh-In star Judy Carne, and had well publicised affairs with Sally Field, Raquel Welch and tennis star Chris Evert. He was living with Japanese actress Miko Mayama and Hollywood rumour was that they would get married.
But meeting Dinah Shore, as a guest on her TV chat-show, changed all that. "I had never met her before but out of the blue I asked her to come to Palm Springs for the weekend. She said no, but I knew it was the beginning of the most special relationship of my life.
"I'd never met anyone like her. I realised there was a big age gap between us but it didn't make the slightest difference. I was already in love with her."
Returning home, he told Miko what had happened. He offered her a beach apartment, a Cadillac convertible and $500 a week for two years. She accepted and moved out that afternoon.
When the news that Dinah Shore had taken a toy-boy made the headlines, Dinah and Burt were holidaying in Palm Springs. On returning they moved into Dinah's Beverly Hills mansion.
"Being with Dinah opened every Hollywood door," Reynolds said. "I got to know Sinatra, Jack Benny, Edward G. Robinson, Groucho Marx, Peggy Lee, Orson Welles. Everyone knew Dinah and they all loved her."
After four years together, the happiness and closeness of Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore had become Hollywood legend. "We dreamed of building a house in Hawaii. We couldn't have been more in love. But there was a snag. Dinah wouldn't marry me.
"She said it was because she couldn't give me children and it's true I wanted them badly. But we could have adopted. I knew it was more than that.
"Even so, Dinah had everything I ever wanted in a woman. And when I told her: 'I want to be with you for the rest of my life,' I really meant it. And yet a year later he was telling friends: "Breaking up with Dinah is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I knew it was time to get married or move on, and she refused to marry me."
During a tearful confrontation in 1975, Reynolds told Dinah Shore: "I will love you all my life. The hardest part is that I'm falling deeper in love with you every moment." Then he turned and walked away.
Reynolds cried for days afterwards. "A piece of me was lost. I missed the closeness and the friendship and to be truthful I've never stopped missing it ever since. Every time I picked up the phone I wanted to call her".
Burt Reynolds' desire for children made him marry glamorous Loni Anderson. They had a son, Quinton, but the marriage was soon in trouble and ended in a $10 million divorce.
Alone again, Burt Reynolds rang Dinah Shore hoping to get together again. But she refused to see him despite his pleading.
Finally, from a friend, he discovered her tragic secret — the reason why she had refused to marry him and why she now had broken off the relationship for good. Dinah Shore had terminal cancer.
He had one last conversation with her over the phone and again she refused to let him see her. "You know I love you," she said. "And I love you," Reynolds replied. She died a week later in February 1993.
"No one's death, not even my mother's, affected me like Dinah's," he said later. "I was privileged to have been part of her life. If I hadn't been so preoccupied with myself, we could have been together until the end.
"That's something that, for as long as I live, I will never be able to forgive myself."