Burt Reynolds, one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men during the 1970s and early ’80s with films like Deliverance, Smokey and the Bandit, The Longest Yard and Semi-Tough, has died.
Burton Leon Reynolds was born in Lansing, the state capital of Michigan, on 11 February 1936. With the onset of World War Two, his father was drafted into the US Army and the family moved to Missouri.
When his father returned from service in Europe, he became the chief of police in Riviera Beach, Florida, and the young Reynolds attended the local high school. There, he developed as a skilful football player, winning a sports scholarship to Florida State University. He had ambitions to turn professional and was being considered by the Baltimore Colts.
But a knee injury in his first major college game ended his dreams of fame and fortune on the football field. “It tore me apart,” he later said. “My dad probably took it harder than I did – he was crushed.”
He began taking English lessons with a view to becoming a parole officer but his teacher, having heard Reynolds reading Shakespeare aloud, cast him in a production of the play Outward Bound, and his performance won him the 1956 Florida State Drama Award.
A move to New York brought him into contact with the actress Joanne Woodward, who introduced him to theatre producers. He was cast in a production by the Neighborhood Playhouse, an establishment that had launched the careers of, among others, Gregory Peck, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall.
But a breakthrough eluded him and, despite good reviews, he found himself doing a variety of jobs including lorry driving and working as a waiter.
From his early days in a seemingly endless series of Westerns, he went on to appear in films of the quality of Deliverance before embracing comedy in The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit.
He was one of cinema’s top box-office draws and notable sex symbols in the 1970s, and had a lifestyle in which he enjoyed many fast cars and seducing some of his female co-stars. But his career and his finances plummeted downwards in the 1980s and it was a decade before he returned to form and a whole new audience.
We’re celebrating one of the sexiest men on the planet. R.I.P!