Burt Reynolds, who was one of the biggest superstars in Hollywood during the mid 1970s with theatrical hits such as Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance, died today at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 82.
The actor’s natural good looks and rugged yet highly approachable and flappable style endeared him to millions of men who wanted to be like him and millions of women who wanted to be with him. With films like the sports classic The Longest Yard; the stuntman-styled films with famed late stuntman and stunt driver Hal Needham like Hooper, Gator, and The Cannonball Run; and the aforementioned classics like Deliverance (in which he was nominated for an Academy Award) and the smash 1977 comedy Smokey and the Bandit (which spawned two sequels), Reynolds was toe to toe during the middle 1970s in terms of success, fame, and blinding wealth, as much as anyone else on that A-list level at the time.
Mustachioed and strong in a physical sense, but also imbued with a kind of wit and charm that allowed him to rub elbows with the likes of Johnny Carson frequently on his incarnation of The Tonight Show, Reynolds was a true larger than life figure. The Michigan native started slowly in his career, trying out football before going the acting route (he went to Florida State University on a football scholarship) and eventually landing a role on CBS-TV’s venerable Western Gunsmoke and later as the titular character on the crime drama Dan August.
These aforementioned roles kept Reynolds in the spotlight, but it wasn’t until he did two key moves in his career that he became a supernova: his role in the John Boorman thriller Deliverance and posing almost naked for a Cosmopolitan centerfold, both in 1972. On the heels of both of those events, however opposite ended in the spectrum they are, they helped create what we know Burt Reynolds as today and will always know him as. And although much of his career after the roman candle ignition of Smokey and the Bandit in pop culture sputtered as he took on light romantic comedy fare and then wallowed in the 1980s in dare-to-say-it straight-to-video mediocrity, there are still bright spots on the Reynolds resume. Witness especially the powerful role of the ill-fated take-no-prisoners freewheeling experienced outdoorsman Lewis Medlock in Deliverance, a role and performance that arguably for the only time in his career, elevated Reynolds into a higher league of acting. Then there is the comeback of sorts with his Oscar-nominated role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s early masterpiece Boogie Nights, in which Reynolds’ performance as a genial with a heart of gold porn director created a memorable character and a firm center to an otherwise wild patchwork of a film. He also enjoyed a successful return to TV, with the early ’90s sitcom Evening Shade, which ran for four years.
Reynolds had romantic relationships with several fellows stars, like Dinah Shore and Sally Field, the latter of whom he said in 2016 was the love of his life (they were together from five years and did four films together). He was twice married, which ended in divorce: first he married Judy Carne in 1963 for two years (the actress is best known for the Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In phrase “Sock it to me!”), then fellow ’70s superstar Loni Anderson (WKRP In Cincinnati) from 1988 to 1993. He is survived by his and Anderson’s adopted son, Quinton, 30.
All in all, the loss of Burt Reynolds closes the window ever so more slightly now on his generation of actors, another loss of a key figure from Hollywood’s mid ’70s period, when stars like him, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, and Paul Newman were successfully twofold in the business; they could act and their looks could sell pictures. But like those names, Burt Reynolds wasn’t just another pretty face, he was a legend in his own right, and not just at the box office or at the water cooler or in a women’s sewing circle, but in the industry as well. Burt Reynolds set the tone and stage for a lot of male actors who followed him, and the indebted will only grow more and more as he now steps into immortality.
RIP Burt Reynolds
February 11, 1936 – September 6, 2018
Match Game – Hey, Burt! (June 13, 1974)
Smokey and the Bandit Official Trailer #1 – Burt Reynolds Movie (1977)