From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Standing in the sun-filled kitchen of his Jupiter, Fla., home, Burt Reynolds holds his little boy, Quinton, 14 months, in his mighty arms. Father and son are looking for a snack. While Bandit, the family spaniel, snuffles at his feet, Burt browses through the cupboards, sometimes stopping to plant whisperlike kisses on the fine young forehead of the child whom he and Loni Anderson adopted in September 1988, four months after they were married. "I never knew I could fall in love with anyone," he says, "the way I have fallen in love with Quinton."

Such stolen moments of domestic tranquillity have come to Reynolds, 53, at the end of a tumultuous decade. When it began, he was at the summit of his career, a box office Goliath. Unspoiled by public acclaim, he remained a loyal buddy to his friends, a generous son to his parents and a gentleman to the women in his life. In 1981, he met actress Loni Anderson, who stiff-armed his invitations for a year. "I was terrified," says Loni, 43. "I expected a glib ladies' man, which he's not. He is an introspective man with deep emotions." In 1984 Loni moved into his Holmby Hills home.

Around the same time, Reynolds was beset with health problems that derailed his career. He fractured his jaw during a stunt, and that injury developed into a condition known as temporomandibular-joint disorder, or TMJ, which affected his balance and sensory perceptions and all but immobilized him. When he lost weight, unfounded rumors that he had AIDS washed through Hollywood, and the industry shunned him. By the time Reynolds was well enough to return to work, his days as a screen idol seemed over.

Until this month. Reynolds's new film, Breaking In, was honored at the New York Film Festival. Playing an aging but honorable thief, Burt acts with a breadth of skill not seen since his much-praised Starting Over in 1979. "However old the character is supposed to be, Mr. Reynolds has not appeared more fit—nor has he given a more accomplished performance—in a very long time," crowed the New York Times.

The rush of critical support dovetails neatly with the sense of security that marriage and particularly fatherhood have brought. "The day Quinton was delivered to us, we were more short-tempered with one another than we ever have been," says Loni. "Our nerves were just raw. When we saw him, we cried. He looked just like Burt. He even had Burt Reynolds sideburns."

A year ago Burt and Loni moved from Los Angeles to an 8½-acre waterfront compound in Jupiter, where Quinton Anderson Reynolds is growing up privileged in all possible ways. "There couldn't be a more secure, loving little boy," says Loni. "He gets constant encouragement. He hasn't known a harsh word except no-no."

When he walked at 10 months, his parents and nanny applauded; when he talked two weeks later, his first word was "da-da," and each day he shows off new skills: kissing Bandit the "bow-wow," mimicking his father's sneezes, making popping sounds with his cheeks. He sleeps in a rainbow-colored bedroom beneath a ceiling of painted clouds.

Quinton's day often begins before dawn, when his father leaves to shoot his TV series, B.L. Stryker. "When the helicopter comes, we wave goodbye," says Loni. "One morning I was thinking, 'How I love being a mom,' and that day the baby peed on me, threw up on me, pooped on me, and I thought, 'This is not glamorous.' I've definitely changed."

And so has Burt. "Fatherhood has calmed him," says Loni. "He says he forgets all about his troubles when I lay the baby on his chest."

As Reynolds's turbulent decade comes to a close, his troubles seem to have melted. He is busy filming and sometimes directing the season's Stryker episodes, teaching at his Institute for Theatre Training, considering scripts for his next movie, playing host to friends like Ricardo Montalban and others who remained loyal through the bad times.

Loni would like to work with Burt one day, but motherhood comes first. "I was divorced when I was carrying my first child [Deidra, now 25, married and living in Orlando]," she says, "so I've never raised a child as a couple. How wonderful it is to have someone to share all the special moments with. Every night we say, 'Aren't we blessed?' " she adds. "We have each other. We have Quinton. We have Deidra nearby. What a nice life we have. Sometimes we just get giddy about it and laugh."