The charismatic superstar Burt Reynolds passed at the age of 82 while in a Florida hospital on Thursday, September 6. According to reports, he went into cardiac arrest, and members of his family said although he’d had health issues, his sudden death was “totally unexpected.”

Reynolds’ niece, Nancy Lee Hess, reached out to US Weekly to say, “It is with a broken heart that I said goodbye to my uncle today. My uncle was not just a movie icon; he was a generous, passionate and sensitive man, who was dedicated to his family, friends, fans and acting students.”

The Michigan native enjoyed an enduring acting career, being featured in 200 roles in television and film since 1958. But his first aspirations were not for the silver screen but on the football field. A promising athlete, Reynolds excelled in college football playing halfback at Florida State, but a couple of knee injuries upended any chance of a sports career. But soon Reynolds met one of the most influential people in his life: his English teacher who cast him in the lead role in a play he was producing. With his performance, Reynolds went on to win the 1956 Florida State Drama Award which included a scholarship to pursue acting in New York. Still, at this point, Reynolds didn’t regard acting as a career, but considered theater classes as a place he could “find pretty girls.”

After dedicating himself to the craft, the rugged, handsome actor proved to be a good fit for television westerns and cop shows and gained career momentum with roles in Riverboat, Gunsmoke, and Hawk during the 1960s. Reynolds once said he had the “heart of a lion,” and that spirit was evident with his willingness to perform his own stunts. He rose to stardom with his breakout film role playing skilled outdoorsman Lewis Medlock in the nightmarish backwoods thriller Deliverance in 1972. While filming a particularly dramatic river scene, Reynolds elected to perform his own stunt, broke his coccyx and almost drowned. Tough as nails, he finished the movie shoot anyway.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Reynolds remained a popular leading man playing rebellious yet likable movie characters. He portrayed former NFL player Paul Crewe in The Longest Yard; the cowboy hat-adorned Bandit in the wildly popular Smokey and the Bandit films brimming with high-speed chases alongside Sally Field’s character Carrie; and he and Dom DeLuise cracked audiences up in the road-race comedy Cannonball Run.

And after starring in dozens of more movies over the years, the mustached actor was “dumbstruck” to discover he’d received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for a movie he said working on was “just the worst experience [he] ever had.” The performance being celebrated was his portrayal of Jack Horner in the 1997 drama Boogie Nights. “If you hold on to things long enough, they get back into style. Like me,” he quipped after being nominated.

But at the time of his death, Reynolds was not retired from his acting career. His last film is a comedy entitled Defining Moments which is scheduled to be released in the spring. Also, sadly, Reynolds was cast in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino crime film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but had not yet started filming for the role. He was looking forward to working with the famous director, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie while playing the role of George Spahn, a man who rented his California ranch to Charles Manson and his “family.”

Sally Field reached out after hearing of Reynold’s passing. “There are times in your life that are so indelible, they never fade away,” she stated to PEOPLE. “They stay alive, even forty years later. My years with Burt never leave my mind. He will be in my history and my heart, for as long as I live. Rest, Buddy.”

Boogie Nights co-star Mark Wahlberg tweeted, “Rest in peace to a legend and a friend.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote, “He was one of my heroes. He was a trailblazer. He showed the way to transition from being an athlete to being the highest paid actor, and he always inspired me. He also had a great sense of humor–check out his Tonight Show clips. My thoughts are with his family.”

Wesley Snipes tweeted, “I will never forget our dinners, laughs & gems you dropped. Meeting you was one of the greater joys of my adult life & artistic career. You were the ‘Man’ then, now & forever in my book. 10-4 Bandit, you’ve got nothing but open road now–love, WS. the Student.”

Erik Estrada wrote, “So sad hearing about the passing of Burt Reynolds. Such a nice man, true friend & good soul! You left this world with wonderful memories.”

We will miss you, Burt Reynolds.

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