Goodbye to Burt Reynolds, ‘Deliverance,’ ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ Star

September 9, 2018

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.

The Roles That Burt Reynolds Let Get Away

April 27, 2017

Burt Reynolds, legendary actor and notorious bad boy, is still working in Hollywood at the age of 81. Presently, he is promoting his new film Dog Years which details the trials and travails of an aging movie star. In a far-ranging interview with Katie Couric, Burt lets forth about his tumultuous love life, his love of football and teaching, his many regrets including screwing it up with Sally Field and marrying Loni Anderson, and the roles that got away.

According to IMDb, Reynolds’ numerous achievements have been recognized by his having been named America’s Favorite All-Around Motion Picture Actor (People’s Choice Award) for a record six consecutive years; the Most Popular Star for five years running; Star of the Year (National Association of Theatre Owners); and #1 Box Office Star for five years in a row–still an unmatched record. He was honored with the 2007 Taurus World Stunt Award for Lifetime Achievement for an Action Movie Star and received this special citation from the Republican Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.

You would think with a resume like that a star of Burt’s caliber would be happy and satisfied with his legacy, but that’s apparently not the case. Reynolds laments turning down the role of the randy astronaut Garrett Breedlove in the award-winning drama Terms of Endearment. Jack Nicholson went on to win the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role and the film itself won five Academy awards along with numerous film festival awards. Burt also turned down the role of the wise-cracking, fearless yippie ki-yay John McClane in the blockbuster action film Die Hard. The role, of course, went to Bruce Willis–and the rest is history! It’s hard to imagine a better player for the iconic role, but if anyone could outBruce Bruce Willis, it would be ole Burt Reynolds.

As well, the sleeper hit Pretty Woman starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts has Burt Reynolds embedded in its collective folklore. Burt turned down the role of robber baron Edward Lewis because he didn’t like the concept; and consequently, Richard Gere–already a big star–got even bigger! Mr. Reynolds doesn’t seem to mind that miss so much as he said, “I couldn’t have done the job [Gere] did.”

However, the role of James Bond is another story altogether. Burt deeply regrets his decision to turn down the iconic role in 1970 and believes it’s one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Remember, this is a guy who said yes to three Smokey and the Bandit movies, two Cannonball Runs, and the inimitable Stroker Ace, but he couldn’t say yes to Bond…James Bond? And the reason he gives for his disappointment concerning the missed opportunity? “I would have done a good job.”

It’s important to keep in mind that Reynolds has famously said he based his movie decisions on “location and the female lead.” For someone with the golden touch of Burt Reynolds, the strategy has–for the most part–worked out. But for mere mortals, it’s essential to give serious thought to each role and each project. Every character and every film or web series should serve in furthering the agenda of becoming a working actor and a going concern in the film industry. Even the work done for free or the work done for reel should be carefully examined. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about the work.

As for ole Burt, “I’m going to keep working until they shoot me and take me off and bury me,” he says. “And I hope they film it.”

Burt Reynolds in the 1972 film Deliverance.