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R.I.P. Burt Reynolds

Reynolds attends the premiere of the documentary The Bandit in 2016.
Photo: Mike Windle (Getty Images)

Burt Reynolds, the charismatic actor who epitomized a particular strain of rugged all-American masculinity—and became a huge star in the late 1970s as a result—has died. The Hollywood Reporter, which broke the news, declines to mention a cause of death. He was 82.

Reynolds was a college football star in Florida—a skill that would later come in handy in films like The Longest Yard—before getting into acting at the dawn of the TV age. He appeared in everything from Route 66 to The Twilight Zone before landing a regular role on Gunsmoke in 1962; after playing the lead roles in Hawk and Dan August, he made his first splash on the big screen in Deliverance in 1972. In his autobiography, Reynolds wrote that the movie “proved I could act, not only to the public, but to me.”

That same year, he also appeared in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex as one of the switchboard operators in the sperm scene. After that, he moved easily into films like The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, Gator, and The Longest Yard, playing a troubled quarterback who gets drafted onto a prison team. Reynolds’ charisma was so great, he even survived his foray into Peter Bogdanovich’s unfortunate musical, At Long Last Love, with Cybill Shepherd.


By the mid-’70s, Reynolds was capable of carrying a movie on his personality alone, playing a mischievous bad boy with a good heart and near-constant grin. 1977’s Smokey And The Bandit fit the bill perfectly, as Reynolds’ Bandit gleefully eludes Jackie Gleason’s frustrated sheriff in a series of elaborate car chases, winning over runaway bride Sally Field in the process. (The film spawned a 1980 sequel, Smokey And The Bandit II.) By the late ’70s, he was a household name, and he was the biggest box-office draw from 1978 to 1982.

While he went back to his football skills in Semi-Tough, to Reynolds’ credit, he also ventured into non-action romantic comedy roles. In Starting Over, he’s a jilted lover trying to get over Candice Bergen with Jill Clayburgh, while Best Friends matched him with the equally irrepressible Goldie Hawn for the story of two friends who fall in love and get married. In Paternity, he played a single man who wants to have a baby, and finds the mother of his future child in Beverly D’Angelo.

But Reynolds also liked to have a good time on set, and his subsequent Cannonball Run movies were basically just an excuse for him to grab his close friends (like Dom DeLuise) and drive around in fast cars for a while. Those movies were almost as famous for their credit blooper reels as the films themselves, usually featuring Reynolds and DeLuise in a series of giggle fits. He also created his own dinner theater in Florida in 1979, so that he could continue to have fun acting with his friends.

Although he fell from the top of the box office after 1982, Reynolds still cranked out a plethora of movies, like the poorly received Front Page remake Switching Channels. After that, he returned to TV, as the lead in B.L. Stryker in 1989-90 and in Evening Shade from 1990 to 1994, for which he won an Emmy as a former football player who returns to his small Arkansas hometown to coach.


After Shade closed, Reynolds returned to the movies, again somehow surviving the notorious 1996 bomb Striptease to star in what some consider his greatest film role: porn director Jack Horner in Boogie Nights. Although Reynolds fired his agent after he saw the film, it won him a Golden Globe. (He lost the Oscar that year to Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.)

Reynolds said that his Oscar nomination in Boogie Nights “is no comeback story because I simply refused to go away.” He continued to work steadily up until this year, including memorable voice roles on American Dad and Archer; and a documentary about the making of Smokey And The Bandit, The Bandit, premiered at SXSW in 2016. His last role was the meta indie drama The Last Movie Star, in which he played a washed-up movie star who refuses to believe that his best days are behind him.


In his heyday, Reynolds was almost as famous for his personal life as he was for his movies. His first wife was Laugh-In star Judy Carne. Reynolds had a long-term relationship with variety star Dinah Shore, who was 20 years older than him. He fell for his Smokey And The Bandit co-star Sally Field, calling her “the love of his life.” His second marriage, to WKRP In Cincinnati bombshell Loni Anderson, ended in divorce in 1994.

Burt Reynolds admired movie idols like Cary Grant, but in the 1970s, he created a film persona as charismatic as the screen has ever seen. His death seems unreal, as he was one of those rare stars who seemed eternally young, and truly timeless.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Reynolds’ last role would be in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, where he was to play rancher George Spahn. It has since come to light that Reynolds died before he could shoot his scenes in Tarantino’s film. We regret the error.

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