I’m sad to have to report the death of Burt Reynolds at 82, following a heart attack after years of battling heart problems.
Reynolds was a throwback to the days when there were real movie stars whose names and personalities alone could draw massive crowds to theaters. He was the #1 box office star from 1978-’82, tying Bing Crosby’s record. At one point, he had four movies in theaters at once. Yet unlike today’s celebrities, who seem to spend more time forcing their political opinions on us than making movies, Reynolds never took himself too seriously.
His self-deprecating wit made him a great talk show guest, and the first non-comedian to fill in for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” He enjoyed hanging out with the stunt people as much as with celebrities, and often did his own stunts (check out the linked article for his hilarious account of a canoe stunt that didn’t work out as planned.) He proved he was a fine serious actor in a few dramas such as “Deliverance,” “Boogie Nights” and “Starting Over,” but he preferred light, fun action pictures and comedies; what Hollywood used to call, without disdain, “audience pleasers.” His biggest hit of all, “Smokey and the Bandit,” a modest little flick about a wise guy in a Trans Am outrunning a Southern sheriff, ranked second only to “Star Wars” at the 1977 box office (in today’s money, its gross would be over $508 million!)
In fact, one of Reynolds’ few regrets (aside from that Cosmo nude centerfold he did as a joke) was that he didn’t take his career more seriously and prove his acting chops until it was too late. He’s almost as famous for the parts he turned down as the ones he took, including Han Solo, John McClane in “Die Hard,” Batman on the ‘60s TV series and the retired astronaut role in “Terms of Endearment” that won Jack Nicholson an Oscar.
Still, Burt Reynolds left behind a lot of work that might not have been lauded by the critics (“Smokey…,” “Cannonball Run,” “Semi-Tough,” “The Longest Yard,” “Hooper,” “Sharkey’s Machine,” his late-career TV series, “Evening Shade” and more), but audiences loved them, and I suspect they’ll continue to be rediscovered and enjoyed for many years to come. Besides, who needs the approval of snotty film critics when you’re beloved by fans worldwide – and when Alfred Hitchcock once said his favorite movie was “Smokey and the Bandit”?
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