Burt Reynolds, Classic Leading Man, Dead At 82

LOS ANGELES, CA — Burt Reynolds, the iconic star of “Deliverance,” “The Longest Yard” and “Smokey and the Bandit” has died. He was 82.

His manager Erik Kritzer confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the Oscar-nominated actor died Thursday morning at Jupiter Medical in Florida. Reynolds was a household name for decades, a classic leading man with good looks and bravado known for performing his own stunts. But Reynolds was more than just a pretty face. He helped usher in a new era of leading men with his wry delivery and ability to laugh at his own macho persona. Playboy magazine famously dubbed him a “macho pixy who often doesn’t take himself or even the film he’s in very seriously.” He was also as famous for his iconic film roles as he was for his reputation as a Hollywood playboy. Rolling Stone on Thursday dubbed him “the last of an A-list breed.”

Reynolds endeared himself to audiences in comedic and dramatic roles. Though he was a bankable box-office star throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, critical acclaim escaped Reynolds until late in his career when he received an Oscar nomination for his role in “Boogie Nights.”

“I didn’t open myself to new writers or risky parts because I wasn’t interested in challenging myself as an actor, I was interested in having a good time,” Reynolds wrote in his autobiography But Enough About Me. “By the time I finally woke up and tried to get it right, nobody would give me a chance.”

Reynolds’ mistakes and self-awareness made him an unlikely mentor for young actors.

“My career is not like a regular chart. … Mine looks like a heart attack,” he told an interviewer in 2001, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I counsel scores of young actors because they know I’ve stepped in just about every land mine along the way I could.”

Reynolds was set to appear in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming “Once Upon a Hollywood” when he died.

A native of Michigan but raised in Florida, Reynolds turned to acting when an injury cut short his college football career. He moved to New York to pursue theater, and got his start in television westerns. But he really turned heads when he posed nude for Cosmopolitan in 1972. He became a media darling and favorite of late night talk shows. His career took off with his first major role in the highly acclaimed “Deliverance,” famous for its disturbing rape scene and ‘hillbilly’ portrayals. He appeared in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex” shortly after and landed his most famous role, starring in “The Longest Yard.”

However, after years of dominating the box office, a string of widely panned films derailed his career. During that turbulent period, he became famous for moody outbursts with the press. In his biography, he lamented the choices he made at that time – namely the roles he turned down. He famously turned down the roles of Han Solo in “Star Wars,” retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove in “Terms of Endearment” and John McClane in “Die Hard,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

But it was “Deliverance” that Reynolds was most proud of. Filming was arduous and dangerous, and despite its critical acclaim, the controversial movie was a risky career move for the fledgling star. The film earned three Oscar nominations.

“If I had to put only one of my movies in a time capsule, it would be Deliverance,” Reynolds wrote, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t know if it’s the best acting I’ve done, but it’s the best movie I’ve ever been in. It proved I could act, not only to the public but me.”

Though most famous as a leading man, Reynolds’ decades-long career included stints on Broadway, directing films such as “Gator,” the release of an album, writing a children’s book and the opening of a chain of restaurants in Florida. His lavish lifestyle and mixed record as a businessman landed him in bankruptcy following his highly publicized divorce from actress Loni Anderson in 1993.

He was married twice and famously dated co-stars and other celebrities including “Smokey and the Bandit” leading lady Sally Field and Dinah Shore.

Reynolds is survived by his son Quinton. Reynolds’ family confirmed his passing Thursday, adding that the actor’s death was unexpected.

“My uncle was not just a movie icon; he was a generous, passionate and sensitive man who was dedicated to his family, friends, fans and acting students,” wrote his niece Nancy Lee Hess. “He has had health issues, however, this was totally unexpected. He was tough. Anyone who breaks their tailbone on a river and finishes the movie is tough. And that’s who he was.”

News of his passing Thursday brought an instant outpouring of condolences from fans and artists inspired by Reynolds.

“Burt Reynolds was one of my heroes. He was a trailblazer,” tweeted Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He showed the way to transition from being an athlete to being the highest paid actor, and he always inspired me. He also had a great sense of humor – check out his Tonight Show clips. My thoughts are with his family.”

Photo: Actor Burt Reynolds speaks during a Q&A session at the Los Angeles premiere of ‘The Last Movie Star’ at the Egyptian Theatre on March 22, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

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