In Memoriam: Burt Reynolds

The cinema world lost another legend on Thursday, September 6 as Burt Reynolds passed away in Florida after a long history of heart problems finally caught up with the actor at the age of 82. Known for being a manly man heartthrob and a classic rebel figure Reynolds brought several legendary film characters to life and eventually became one of the most respected fan favorite actors of his time. In honor of a true icon I’m looking back on his 60-year career in my latest addition of In Memoriam. Let’s pay homage to a man that defined the rough and tough ladies’ man, Burt Reynolds.


Burt Reynolds was born Burton Leon Reynolds in February of 1936 and was originally believed to be born in Georgia before himself debunking that rumor and calling Michigan his birth home. His father was an Army draftee which led his family to live in Missouri for several years before moving back to Michigan and eventually settling in Florida by the time he was ten years old where his father served as Chief of Police in Riviera Beach. Reynolds eventually became a football star in high school as a fullback and received numerous scholarships eventually attending Florida State University but an injured knee soon put an end to his football hopes in addition to losing his spleen and experiencing another knee injury in a car crash. Unsure of where to go with his life he eventually started taking classes as Palm Beach Junior College where his English teacher Watson B. Duncan III quickly became his mentor and convinced Reynolds to try out for the play “Outward Bound”. Reynolds was given the lead role earning him the 1956 Florida State Drama Award and sparking what would become his successful acting career.


After earning the Florida State Drama Award in 1956 Reynolds also earned a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse in New York and there he met Joanne Woodward who helped him find an agent. He made his Broadway debut in “Look, We’ve Come Through” receiving favorable reviews and going on tour with the show. His foray into film began with the help of John Forsythe who directed Reynolds in a revival of “Mister Roberts” and secured the actor’s first audition for 1957’s “Sayonara”. That audition didn’t pan out but by the end of the 50s Reynolds had found some traction appearing on television. He finally got a break in 1959 in the series “Riverboat” appearing in 20 episodes of the show before guest starring in numerous programs over the next two years. In 1961 Reynolds film career would officially begin.

Reynolds made his film debut in 1961’s “Angel Baby” (shown above) as the fourth billed actor in the feature. That same year he appeared in “Armored Command”. He went on to appear in “Operation C.I.A.”, “Navajo Joe”, “100 Rifles” and other films throughout the 60s while continuing to make appearances on television most notably appearing in “Gunsmoke”. He earned the title role in the 1966 television show “Hawk” playing Native American John Hawk for 17 episodes. While it has been long disputed Reynolds spent much of his life defending that his family had some Cherokee heritage. Reynolds would settle for smaller action films and more television roles until 1972 changed everything handing the actor one of his biggest roles that ushered in the start of his legendary career as a leading man.


Reynolds became a household name after appearing in the 1972 film “Deliverance” and thus his career as a leading man took off. The 70s would bring Reynolds further into the public eye with starring roles in “White Lightning”, “The Longest Yard”, “Lucky Lady”, “Hustle”, and, of course, 1977’s “Smokey and the Bandit” which gave birth of possibly Reynolds most well know character Bo “Bandit” Darville which would establish Reynold’s image and lead to him being somewhat typecast as the rough heartthrob lead for years to come. Reynolds didn’t slow down in the 80s. His role in “The Longest Yard” also earned him one of his three Golden Globe nominations for his film work. His second nomination would come thanks to his contributions to “Starting Over” in 1980. Reynolds began the 80s with “Smokey and the Bandit II” and once again starred in major successful hits like “The Cannonball Run”, “Malone”, and “Stoker Ace” while also making his voice acting debut in the 1989 classic “All Dogs Go to Heaven” as Charlie Barkin. Unfortunately, the 80s also brought addiction to Reynolds after he suffered an injury on the set of 1984’s “City Heat” and became dependent on painkillers for several years.


The 90s were an up and down decade for Reynolds. He returned to television on the sitcom Evening Shade” after a few box office bombs but with his appearance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 film “Boogie Nights” Reynolds earned his one and only Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor but did not take home the statuette. The role also earned him his third Golden Globe nomination for film finally earning him the trophy to go along with his other Globes for his television work. Reynolds appeared in nearly 15 films in the 90s, many of them either box office failures or forgotten products, and even found himself filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996. In the 2000s Reynolds began to feel the slump of his aging marketability but was still able to find work. He was one of the best parts of the 2005 “Dukes of Hazzard” theatrical remake and even got to revisit one of his most famous films “The Longest Yard” with a major role in a remake that same year. Reynolds would also dabble in video game voice overs in the 2000s appearing in “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” in 2002.


Burt Reynolds essentially retired from acting after 2008 only appearing in a handful of movies since that time. In 2009 he underwent back surgery and a quintuple coronary artery bypass surgery which may have contributed to his disappearance from the acting scene in the following years. However, his career was finished on a high note. Reynolds received critical acclaim or his role in 2017’s “The Last Movie Star” and his final role before his death was in “Miami Love Affair”. He is also expected to appear posthumously in the 2018 release “Defining Moments” and was to take part in the filming of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” but passed away before he could film his scenes.


There’s no denying Burt Reynolds’ incredible success and legacy. The Academy Award nominated actor and Golden Globe winner went from football star to star of stage and screen rising above his machismo heartthrob image to earn credit as a legitimate performer and dedicated actor. He helped bring several legendary characters to the screen that still stand the test of time as icons of their era. His work has been recognized by numerous other organizations beyond the Academy and Globes but it’s his everlasting charm, irresistible smile and legendary filmography that will forever make him a respected fan favorite even years after his passing. He was a true icon and one I can say I will sorely miss. To the Bandit himself I say rest in peace. Hollywood will not be the same without you sir!

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