One day you're a movie star jetting across the country in a private plane, drinking champagne in your hot tub with a bunch of buddies and some lady friends. You've got five houses, a ranch and a hundred-some horses.

The next day you're making headlines: Divorced. Sued. Deeply in debt. Suddenly the world knows that you owe your toupee maker $121,797. The Visa Gold has been withdrawn. A network wants that $3.7 million it lent you. Now.

But Burt Reynolds, the latest entertainer in a very long line to go to bankruptcy court, probably hasn't got much time to think about the ironies of his predicament. The hairy-chested, high-living good ol' boy of yore is too busy trying to make ends meet, even with the protection of the courts. There's still the monthly mortgage on his mansion in Hobe Sound, Fla. There's the $15,000 a month in child support he owes ex-wife Loni Anderson for their son Quinton. There's the mortgage on her $1.9 million home.

No question about it: It's more fun being rich and famous.

"I have a lot of pride and filing Chapter 11 tears me apart," the 60-year-old movie star said at the opening of the Burt Reynolds Institute of Theater Training in West Palm Beach this month after his lawyers filed for bankruptcy. He wore a curly, silvery-black toupee, most probably from creditor Edward Katz Hair Design in Los Angeles. He added: "I've risen above adversity before, and I'll do it again."

Which is what Reynolds's longtime attorney and good friend Robert Montgomery has been telling him for years. "I've been trying to get him to go Chapter 11 for seven years. I've begged him. Implored him," Montgomery says. "But he's from the old school that thinks if a person goes bankrupt it means he is no better than the salesman who comes in and takes your money."

His publicist, Jeffrey Lane, said Reynolds declined to be interviewed for this article.

Not that going into bankruptcy proceedings is terribly uncommon. Tons of famous people have done it, including Wayne Newton, M.C. Hammer, Dorothy Hamill, Lynn Redgrave, Merv Griffin, Kim Basinger and prizefighters from Michael Nunn to Leon Spinks to Sugar Ray Seales. They still have friends. They never went to jail. They survived.

The problem with bankruptcy proceedings is not that it makes a celebrity look like a deadbeat. It's that it makes him or her look foolish. How could anyone manage to fritter away millions of dollars? Or even one million dollars? Different stars have tried many ways, including but not limited to: greedy managers, unethical lawyers, angry ex-spouses, addictive substances and smooth-talking investment hucksters eager to relieve the wealthy of their cash.

When the good times roll, it's hard to imagine things any other way. "The problem is, athletes, musicians, actors, entertainers never think their career's going to go the other way," says Eric Greenspan, a contract attorney for alternative bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers who has seen successful musicians go broke. "That's where those particular people have problems. They think, I got it, it's going to keep coming in, it's always going to keep coming in.' "

Even one of Burt Reynolds's oldest and dearest friends knows that to be true. "It's thinking that it's a bottomless pit, so full of money that it's endless and you can never dip it all out," says Buddy Killen, a co-investor in a restaurant scheme that cost each of them $20 million. Now Reynolds owes Killen $825,000; Wayne Newton owes him money too. "So you allow tax problems to occur. You allow everyone in the world to use your money. They use you. We're all subject to that. When you're successful, people tend to take advantage of you. If you're not watching over it, you look up one day and say, Whoa -- what happened to all that money?' " Reckless

But what mostly happened to Reynolds's money was that he spent it.

Born the son of a sheriff in a low-rent district of West Palm Beach, Reynolds started out with ambitions for a career in football, which he played at Florida State University. That dream was cut short by a car accident that resulted in knee surgery and a shattered spleen.

Instead, Reynolds turned his rascalish charm and macho looks to the acting profession, working in regional theater before striking out for Hollywood. There he quickly earned a reputation in the industry as a roughneck -- he dumped the director of his first television show in a lake -- and was forced to support himself as a stunt man. Reynolds's first big break came with "Deliverance" in 1972, and after that he worked nonstop for a while, appearing in 12 films over five years, including "The Longest Yard," "Hustle," "Gator," "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings," "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Semi-Tough." From 1978 to 1982 Reynolds was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, even as his films began to fall off in quality. He never lost his reputation as a roughneck, buttressed by tales of drinking and losing his temper on the set.

The actor quickly acquired the toys to fit his newfound status. He bought several mansions in Beverly Hills and built the huge estate in Hobe Sound, plus a 160-acre ranch in nearby Jupiter where he kept a stable of more than 150 horses. He bought a mansion in Georgia, reportedly because it reminded him of Tara (he never lived there), purchased a private jet, then got a helicopter to match. He married Loni Anderson, and they bought a home in Beverly Hills.

Even this was not enough, though, to squander his considerable fortune. In the 1980s Reynolds's business manager, Sandy Simon, persuaded him and Killen, a country music mogul in Nashville whom Reynolds had befriended during the shoot of "Deliverance," to invest in a chain of country-cooking, family-style restaurants, "Po' Folks." At the time it seemed like a good idea; the chain was doing well, and the parent corporation promised franchisees plenty of support. The pair invested in 30 restaurants in Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

Almost immediately things began to go wrong, Killen says. "It was a comedy of errors. The service was bad, the quality of food was not holding up. We weren't getting advertising like we were supposed to from the {parent} corporation. Everything that could go wrong went wrong," he says. "Burt was busy making movies. I was busy making music. Maybe neither one of us was taking a close enough look."

Things grew progressively worse. Reynolds and Killen brought in a liquidator to try to cut their losses, who counseled them to invest in a different chain, "Daisy Diner." "Instead of getting us out, that cost us an extra $12- to $15 million," Killen says.

A bad situation was aggravated by what Killen and lawyer Montgomery say was poor advice from Reynolds's business managers, who had talked him into signing the restaurant leases personally. "They persuaded him that he needed to act quickly, and instead of setting up a corporation, they persuaded Burt to go personally on all the leases. So when the Daisy chain turned out not to be a Burger King, it resulted in Burt being liable," Montgomery says. Even more incredibly, Reynolds had signed a release absolving his business advisers of any responsibility; so when he fired them he had no malpractice claim.

"He felt he had sufficient residuals to take care of it," Montgomery says. But the restaurants were quickly going belly up. "It's not fun when they call you every other day needing $1 million in cash," Killen recalls. "One day I remember they called and needed $5 million."

Killen had a successful restaurant in Nashville and a music publishing business, and was able to survive the catastrophe; by the 1980s, Reynolds was still living like a movie star, and according to his 1988 pre-nuptial agreement with Anderson was worth $15 million, but his career was heading into hibernation. He took roles, it seemed, without regard to their quality (the forgettable "Smokey and the Bandit 3," "Rent-a-Cop"). And he suffered from a lingering joint disorder in his jaw, the result of a stuntman's wayward fist while filming in 1984, that left him thin and weakened for a time.

Slowly he recovered, at least physically. In 1990, Reynolds starred in a successful TV series, "Evening Shade," for which he won an Emmy in 1991. But CBS canceled the show after four seasons -- one season too few to win any decent syndication fees -- after it had lent the star $3.7 million. CBS refused to comment on the loan.

From bad to worse. His marriage with Loni Anderson began to break up in the most public of ways, with their rancorous 1994 divorce a tabloid parody of Reynolds's earlier fame and popularity. He went on TV in a purple suit and knotted scarf to claim her supposed extramarital relations prompted his two-year affair with a Tampa cocktail lounge manager. The divorce settlement, of course, worsened his already precarious financial state.

All this time, though, Reynolds resisted filing for protection under Chapter 11, staving off creditors with occasional payments. Not until CBS sued the actor for the $3.7 million loan (plus interest) this month did he accept the inevitable. In a West Palm Beach court, bankruptcy lawyers listed assets of approximately $6.65 million and debts of $11.2 million, including CBS, Chase Manhattan Bank, First Union Bank in Nashville, agents Creative Artists Agency, William Morris and International Creative Management, ex-wife Anderson and Laurie's Flash Framers in Sherman Oaks, to whom he owes $2,548. Friendly Creditors

Being listed as creditor is a legal way to get repaid; but not everyone is angry at Reynolds. "I've been doing Burt's framing for years. I think very highly of him," says Laurie Stokes, owner of Laurie's Flash Framers. "If he owes me money, he'll pay me off. I would still frame for him in a second." Toupee maker Edward Katz hung up on a journalist who asked for comment.

"I'd forgotten he owed me anything until I saw an article {about the bankruptcy} in People magazine," says Ken Kragen, who was briefly Reynolds's manager in 1991 and is owed $50,110. "I don't ever expect to get anything out of Burt. I don't think he'll be in any position to pay off all his creditors."

In a sense Kragen, a successful Hollywood producer and manager, is emblematic of those who wandered in and out of Reynolds's life in recent years as the actor's career stumbled along in the wake of his personal difficulties. Kragen said he agreed to take Reynolds on as a client despite friends' advice that the former star was on a losing streak; he set up a traveling, one-man show in which Reynolds told audiences the story of his life. But after about eight months, Kragen says, he decided the situation was too difficult.

"He was pretty stressed out. He had the pressures of his marriage breaking up; he was feeling the financial pinch," Kragen says. The producer abandoned his client on the way to Detroit from Nashville. "I thought to myself, You're not having a good time.' So I got on a flight to L.A. In Burt's life that's pretty much the way it is. Either you're in there or you're not."

Kragen says he was one of a long string of managers who was not. Some, like Killen, say Reynolds was poorly served by those supposedly representing his interests, but others, like Kragen, say he may have scared off even those who intended to help him.

In some cases, the recipe for ruin is that after a certain point, managers don't care to deliver hardheaded advice, and celebrities don't care to listen anyway.

"I have clients living above their means. I have clients living within their means. I give the same advice to both people, but it's a question of the information they're willing to process," says Greenspan, the musicians' lawyer, who does not represent Reynolds. "I can tell them not to do heroin and they don't listen to me either."

Michael Cooper, M.C. Hammer's bankruptcy attorney, says that if celebrities live beyond their means, a lawsuit is often the final blow to their financial security. In Hammer's case, it was a suit settled out of court for $600,000 with a woman who alleged she was gang-raped by his staff. "How do you plan for something like that?" Cooper asks. "How do you budget in for someone suing you for copyright infringement, who claims you stole a beat from their song?"

But Kragen has seen the pattern of live-for-the-moment profligacy too many times before. "In their heyday they feel invincible. Then when things cool off their lifestyle hasn't changed and they can't keep it up," he says. "If they're really successful, the business people around them are not willing to take hard positions. Or they don't necessarily listen. So they create a certain role and try to live up to that image. I've seen it lots of times. I could name a dozen people at the moment who maintain something of a facade, who don't have what they appear to have. The business forces people to live up to a certain image." Digging Out

With the details of his bankruptcy proceedings public knowledge, Reynolds is determined, his lawyers insist, to pay everyone off. This past year the actor has had a couple of decent film roles, in "Striptease" with Demi Moore (for which he earned $200,000, according to entertainment publications) and the upcoming "Citizen Ruth" with Laura Dern. He has just completed a role in the independent film "Big City Blues" and will be appearing in "Love Letters" with Ann-Margret at his theater in West Palm Beach. At his ranch in Jupiter, tour buses pull up to visit the museum, private screening room, working sound stage and petting zoo that provide a tiny stream of income. He rents the property out for weddings.

"Of all the clients I've represented, he's just about the most sincere I've ever seen anyone be about paying his debts," says bankruptcy lawyer Marc Bloom, who will be filing a payment plan with the court in the next few months. Bloom says Reynolds's other lawyers are disputing the $3.7 million debt alleged by CBS. "How long he'll wind up making payments under that plan will depend on how successful his career is," he adds.

Killen has tried to support his friend through the rough times, and hopes that he's learned from past mistakes. "I've learned through the years that you just don't turn anything over to other people; you have to guide it yourself. If you don't, it gets out of control," he says. "But it's a pretty hard pill to swallow when the world turns on you." CAPTION: Reynolds, who played a stuntman in "Hooper," was reckless in his finances, friends say. CAPTION: Burt Reynolds in the 1974 movie "The Longest Yard": Now, with his back to the goal line financially, he's struggling to get back up the field. CAPTION: Sweet deal: Following a bitter, very public breakup, Loni Anderson and Burt Reynolds held hands after reaching a child support settlement in 1994.