The former football player and star of films such as Deliverance, Smokey and the Bandit and Boogie Nights was a larger than life figure.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on September 7, 2018

He passed away in the Jupiter Medical Centre in Florida with his family by his side. He had endured a number of health issues in recent years and had undergone heart bypass surgery in 2010.

Reynolds was set to appear in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but ill health intervened.

Emerging as a genuine A-lister with 1972’s Deliverance, Reynolds went on to be a wisecracking, masculine presence in films such as Smokey and the Bandit,The Longest Yard and The Cannonball Run. After a period in Tinseltown wilderness, he re-emerged with a poignant turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Burt Reynolds: A ’70s icon

The list of roles he turned down is equally remarkable and includes Han Solo, James Bond, Michael Corleone (The Godfather and Richard Gere’s role in Pretty Woman.

His work in Deliverance, a popular and critical hit, laid the groundwork for a decade where Reynolds was the industry’s top-grossing star five years in a row. He also drew on his background as a football player for The Longest Yard, a B-movie classic where he played a convict former NFL player who leads a ragtag team of fellow inmates in a high-stakes football game against their prison captors.

Reynolds’ biggest success, however, was action caper Smokey and the Bandit. In 1977, only Star Wars was a bigger hit.

He also broke taboos when he featured as a nude centrefold in Cosmopolitan, though he later described his appearance there as “really stupid”.

1981 film The Cannonball Run drew on his charisma and machismo, casting him as hotshot outlaw racer J.J McClure. Critics mauled it, but the public lapped up its action-packed, kitschy depiction of illegal racing.

His career fell off a cliff later in that decade, however, and his attempts to turn his success into an investment empire floundered. By 1996, he was US$11 million in debt and forced to file for bankruptcy. His work in Boogie Nights sealed one of Hollywood’s great comebacks though he was later forced to sell the Golden Globe he won for his work there, along with much of the memorabilia from his Hollywood career, when he fell behind on mortgage payments.

“Nobody had more fun”

Sally Field, who Reynolds described as the love of his life, released a statement on his death. “There are times in your life that are so indelible, they never fade away,” it read.

“They stay alive, even 40 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.”

Reynolds told his story in two autobiographies: My Life (1994) and But Enough About Me (2015).

“I always wanted to experience everything and go down swinging,” he wrote in the latter book.

“Well, so far, so good. I know I’m old, but I feel young. And there’s one thing they can never take away: Nobody had more fun than I did.”