Once the biggest box office draw in the world and a defining icon of masculinity for a generation of moviegoers, screen legend Burt Reynolds has died at the age of 82.
Reynolds’ rugged good looks marked him for stardom early on. After a promising football career flamed out due to injury, he took up acting and soon found steady work on television, including popular shows of the early 1960s such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and a recurring role on Gunsmoke. By 1966, he was headlining his own series, the short-lived ABC detective drama Hawk. Within a few years after that, Reynolds broke out as a movie star in John Boorman’s Deliverance, playing one of a group of city folk whose wilderness adventure trip goes disastrously wrong. The film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and Reynolds’ movie career escalated quickly from that point.
Reynolds himself would regularly cite Deliverance as his best movie and one of the few roles that really challenged him as an actor. In a memoir written much later, he admitted that he had largely avoided risky parts because he was only interested in having a good time. Fortunately, audiences were happy to tag along on the ride, propelling him to superstardom throughout the rest of the 1970s and early 1980s with hits like The Longest Yard, White Lightning, Semi-Tough, Hooper, and the seemingly unstoppable blockbuster Smokey and the Bandit. For a time, fans couldn’t get enough of Reynolds’ trademark mustache and shit-eating grin.
The actor’s winning streak started to cool by the mid 1980s, however. Attempts to spin Smokey and The Cannonball Run into franchises were met with critical disdain and declining box office. Reynolds’ other films of the era, including some he directed himself, likewise had mixed success. At perhaps his lowest point, Reynolds resorted to voicing (without credit) an off-screen character in the cheesy sitcom Out of This World. His personal life was also troubled with financial difficulties and a tumultuous marriage to Loni Anderson that ended with their divorce in 1993.
For as many lulls as the rest of his career had, it was also punctuated with periodic comebacks. Reynolds headlined the popular CBS comedy Evening Shade for four seasons, winning an Emmy for it in 1991. He also received his only Oscar nomination in 1998 for a major supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. Unfortunately, his increasingly cantankerous behavior in his later years marked him as difficult to work with. He feuded with Anderson on the set of Boogie Nights, publicly badmouthed the film during its release, and was reportedly very bitter about losing the Oscar to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting. Despite the award nomination, his work after that point was largely much lower-profile. Likely Reynolds’ last truly memorable role was playing the cartoonish Boss Hogg in the 2005 Dukes of Hazzard movie, which made a fair amount of money but was critically derided.
Prior to his death, Reynolds was poised for another possible resurgence with news that Quentin Tarantino had cast him in the upcoming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but had not yet shot any footage for it. He passed away on Thursday due to coronary failure following years of poor heath that left him looking very frail, even for his age.
Nevertheless, 82 is still a good, long life, during which Burt Reynolds had ascended to the very heights of movie stardom. His legacy is assured.
[Source: The Hollywood Reporter]