Burt Reynolds, the handsome film and television star known for his acclaimed performances in “Deliverance” and “Boogie Nights,” commercial hits such as “Smokey and the Bandit” and for an active off-screen love life that included relationships with Loni Anderson and Sally Field, has died at age 82.
In a statement, his niece Nancy Lee Hess called his death Thursday “totally unexpected,” although she acknowledged he had health issues.
The mustached, smirking Reynolds inspired a wide range of responses over his long, erratic career: critical acclaim and critical scorn, popular success and box office bombs. Reynolds made scores of movies, ranging from lightweight fare such as the hits “The Cannonball Run” and “Smokey and the Bandit” to more serious films like “The Longest Yard” and “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.”
He received some of the film world's highest and lowest honors. He was nominated for an Oscar for “Boogie Nights,” the Paul Thomas Anderson film about the pornography industry; won an Emmy for the TV series “Evening Shade”; and was praised for his starring role in “Deliverance.”
But he also was a frequent nominee for the Razzie, the tongue-in-cheek award for Hollywood's worst performances, and his personal life provided ongoing drama, particularly after an acrimonious divorce from Anderson in 1995. He had a troubled marriage to Judy Carne, a romance with Dinah Shore and a relationship with Field damaged by his acknowledged jealousy of her success.
Through it all he presented a genial persona, often the first to make fun of his own image.
“My career is not like a regular chart, mine looks like a heart attack,” he told The Associated Press in 2001. “I've done over 100 films, and I'm the only actor who has been canned by all three networks. I epitomize longevity.”
Born in Lansing, Michigan, and raised in Florida, he was an all-Southern Conference running back at Florida State University in the 1950s. He appeared headed to the NFL until a knee injury and an car accident ended his chances. He dropped out of college and drifted to New York, where he worked as a dockhand, dance-hall bouncer, bodyguard and dish washer before returning to Florida in 1957 and enrolling in acting classes.
In the 1960s he made dozens of guest-star appearances on such TV shows as “Bonanza,” ''The Twilight Zone” and “Perry Mason.” His first film role came in 1961's “Angel Baby,” and he followed it with numerous other mediocre movies, the kind, he liked to joke, that were shown in airplanes and prisons.
He did become famous enough to make appearances on “The Tonight Show,” leading to his most cherished role.
In the early 1970s, director John Boorman was impressed by how confidently Reynolds handled himself when subbing for Carson as host of “The Tonight Show.” Boorman thought he might be right for a film adaptation of James Dickey's novel “Deliverance.”