Burt Reynolds, whose good looks and charm made him one of Hollywood’s most popular actors as he starred in films such as “Deliverance” and “Smokey and the Bandit” in the 1970s and ’80s, died on Thursday age 82.
At the peak of his career, Reynolds was one of the most bankable actors in the film industry, reeling off a series of box office smashes until a career downturn in the mid-1980s. He rebounded in 1997 with a nomination for a best supporting actor Academy Award for “Boogie Nights” and won an Emmy Award for his role in the 1990-1994 TV series “Evening Shade.”
With his trademark mustache, rugged looks and macho aura, he was a leading male sex symbol of the 1970s. He appeared naked – reclining on a bearskin rug with his arm strategically positioned for the sake of modesty – in a centerfold in the
women’s magazine Cosmopolitan in 1972.
Reynolds’ personal life sometimes overshadowed his movies, with marriages that ended in divorce to actresses Loni Anderson and Judy Carne and romances with others, including Sally Field and Dinah Shore. Reynolds also generated attention for financial woes and his struggles with prescription pain medication.
Reynolds cited director John Boorman’s Oscar-nominated 1972 “Deliverance” as his best film and said he regretted that the hoopla from his Cosmopolitan appearance detracted from the movie that made him a star. He played tough-guy Lewis Medlock – opposite Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox – in the chilling
tale of a canoe trip gone bad in rural Georgia.
He starred in dozens of films, also including “White Lightning” (1973), “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings” (1975), “Hustle” (1975), “Nickelodeon” (1976) and “Semi-Tough” (1977).
He was the top money-making star at the box office in an annual poll of movie exhibitors 1978 through 1982.
Many of his films were set in the South. He often played a lovable rascal who outwits local authorities as in director Hal Needham’s 1977 crowd-pleasing action comedy “Smokey and the Bandit,” co-starring his girlfriend Field and Jackie Gleason, and its two sequels.
Another of his better roles was that of a former pro quarterback who lands in prison and assembles a team of convicts to play the warden’s squad of brutal prison guards in 1974’s rollicking “The Longest Yard,” directed by Robert Aldrich. He
appeared in a supporting role in its 2005 remake with Adam Sandler.
Reynolds also directed several movies in which he starred, including “Gator” (1976), “The End” (1978), “Sharky’s Machine” (1981) and “Stick” (1985).
While some of his performances were critically praised, others were ridiculed, particularly in the bloated action comedy “Cannonball Run II,” a sequel to his financial success “The Cannonball Run” (1981). He also starred in the notorious 1975 musical flop “At Long Last Love,” a film so atrocious that director Peter Bogdanovich publicly apologized for making it.
Reynolds turned down notable roles including Han Solo in “Star Wars,” which went to Harrison Ford; the title role in a James Bond film; and the astronaut in “Terms of Endearment” that Jack Nicholson turned into an Oscar-winning performance.
‘The most fun’
Reynolds said in 2012 that he regretted some of his film choices. “I took the part that was the most fun – ‘Oh, this will be fun.’ I didn’t take the part that would be the most challenging,” he told television interviewer Piers Morgan in 2012.
Asked to come up with his own epitaph, Reynolds said, “He lived a hell of a life, and did his best – his very best – not to hurt anybody.”
Burton Leon Reynolds Jr. was born on Feb. 11, 1936, and grew up in Florida. He was a fine athlete and played football at Florida State University in the 1950s before his professional football hopes were dashed by injuries suffered in a car crash.
He began acting after enrolling in a junior college. He moved to New York and landed minor stage and TV roles before making his film debut in 1961. Reynolds often was cast in Westerns, including the popular “Gunsmoke” television series in the 1960s.
In 1972, the same year “Deliverance” was released, he showed versatility by also starring in Woody Allen’s comedy “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask.”
Reynolds starred in romantic comedies as well, including “Starting Over” (1979) with Jill Clayburgh and Candice Bergen, and in the musical comedy “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1982) with Dolly Parton.
His film career stalled in the mid-1980s with several misfires and he was never again a leading movie star.
Reynolds turned to television and had a successful run on the situation comedy “Evening Shade,” co-starring Marilu Henner and Charles Durning. He continued to appear in films in lesser but sometimes noteworthy roles.
He earned his only career Oscar nomination playing a porn director – a role he despised – in director Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” (1997), starring Mark Wahlberg.
He experienced some health issues later in his life. He underwent quintuple heart bypass surgery in 2010 and was hospitalized in intensive care in 2013 with the flu.