Iconic Actor Burt Reynolds Dies at 82

Burn Reynolds tempered sex appeal with humor, and brought an athlete's determination to his roles.

Legendary actor and iconic sex symbol Burt Reynolds died of a heart attack on Thursday morning at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida, according to his manager, Erik Kritzer. Reynolds was 82.

Reynolds was the No. 1 box-office attraction for a five-year stretch but transcended Hollywood and bridged a generational gap with the endurance and humor of a sportsman. Best known for the lighthearted works he brought to the cinema with his closest acting friends, like the 1977 box-office hit Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, the good looking good old boy aged gracefully into his legacy with nakedly heart felt performances like his Academy Award nominated turn as porn director Jack Horner in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997).

Written and directed by legendary stuntman Hal Needham, Smokey and the Bandit smashed box office records and was reportedly Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite movie but the man who led its all-star cast started off like any other from his generation. Reynolds rose through 1960s television, appearing on such shows as Gunsmoke and Dan August, before his breakout role as Lewis Medlock in the gritty survival 1972 film adaptation of James Dickey’s novel Deliverance.

Whether playing a sperm, as he did in Woody Allen’s 1972 comedy Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, or an incarcerated football superstar, as he did when playing Paul “Wrecking” Crewe in Robert Aldrich’s 1974 film The Longest Yard, Reynolds always looked like he was having fun on screen. He sensationally posed nude across a bearskin rug for Cosmopolitan magazine, which he later said he regretted because it cost his Deliverance co-stars awards, but not enough that he didn’t make fun of it. He was never above poking fun at his own celebrity, as he did for Mel Brooks in the 1976 comedy Silent Movie, and with Johnny Carson during Reynolds’ many appearances on The Tonight Show. Reynolds was the first non-comedian to sit in for Carson as guest host.

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Burton Milo Reynolds Jr. was born in Waycross, Ga., on Feb. 11, 1936. After moving to Michigan with his family, he settled and grew up in southeastern Florida. A star halfback known as Buddy Reynolds at Palm Beach High School, he went to Florida State University on an athletic scholarship. After a knee injury in his sophomore put a halt to a professional athletic career, he turned to acting, although the injuries rarely stopped him from doing his own stunts.

Reynolds enrolled at Palm Beach Junior College, and got a scholarship after doing the play Outward Bound, playing the part John Garfield portrayed in the 1944 film adaptation, Between Two Worlds. Resembling a young Marlon Brando, Reynolds moved to New York to join the summer-stock troupe at the Hype Park Playhouse. His roommate was Rip Torn, who was also studying the Actors Studio. Reynolds played small roles before getting cast in the New York City Center revival of the play Mister Roberts in 1957. After playing TV and Broadway, Reynolds moved west and signed with Universal, where played Ben Frazer on NBC’s western Riverboat, which starred Darren McGavin.

Reynolds joined Gunsmoke as the half-Comanche Quint Asper in 1962. He also played the Iroquois cop working as a New York City Detective, Navajo Joe, in the 1966 spaghetti Western of the same name. Reynolds also played Mexican revolutionary in the 1969 film 100 Rifles. Reynolds starred in the title role on the short lived ABC detective series Dan August. Reynolds returned to TV for the ABC’s short-lived private detective series B.L. Stryker. He then starred in the CBS sitcom Evening Shade from 1990 to 1994.

Reynolds developed the syndicated game show Win, Lose or Draw with host Bert Convy.  He opened the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Florida, in 1979.

Besides the Cannon Ball Run and Smokey and the Bandit franchises, Reynolds made two movies as ex-con Gator McClusky. He made his directorial debut in 1976 with Gator, the sequel to White Lightning. Reynolds also directed the suicide comedy The End, which co-starred Dom Deluise. Reynolds also starred in the action film Sharky’s Machine (1981).

Reynolds other movie credits include White Lightning (1973), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), Lucky Lady (1975), Semi-Tough (1977), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Malone (1987), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), Magnolia (1999), Miss Lettie and Me (2003), Without a Paddle (2004), The Longest Yard (2005), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), and The Last Movie Star (2017).

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He joined the cast for Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in 2018, but had not yet filmed his role.

Reynolds had relationships with co-star Sally Field, as well as with Dinah Shore. He also dated Goldie Hawn and Farrah Fawcett. He was married to British actress Judy Carne, part of the comedy troupe that played NBC’s Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, from 1963-66. He was married to WKRP in Cincinnati star Loni Anderson from 1988-93.

Reynolds is survived by Quinton, the son he and Anderson adopted.

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.