Movie Stars: Reynolds–Playfurl, Charismatic, Easy-Going Macho Actor Dies at 82

September 6–Burt Reynolds, the charismatic macho star of such films as Deliverance, The Longest Yard and Smokey and the Bandit, died Thursday morning at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida. He was 82.

Photo: Reynolds in Deliverance

Reynolds received only one Oscar nomination, in the Supporting Actor category, when he portrayed porn director Jack Horner in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 masterpiece, Boogie Nights.

More significantly (for him and the movie business), he was the No. 1 box-office attraction for a five-year stretch starting in the late 1970s.

Always with a wink and/or a smile, Reynolds shined in many action films, often doing his own stunts.  He made acting look easy, fun, and effortless.

He also excelled in romantic comedies like Starting Over (1979) opposite Jill Clayburgh and Candice Bergen; The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) with Dolly Parton; Best Friends (1982) with Goldie Hawn; and, quite aptly, The Man Who Loved Women (1983) with Julie Andrews.

Though beloved by audiences for his brand of frivolous, good-ol’-boy fare, the playful Reynolds rarely was embraced by the critics.

The first time he saw himself in Boogie Nights, he was so unhappy he fired his agent. He went on to win a Golden Globe but lost out in the Oscar supporting actor race to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting.

“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 recalled in his 2015 memoir, But Enough About Me. “As a result, I missed a lot of opportunities to show I could play serious roles. By the time I finally woke up and tried to get it right, nobody would give me a chance.”

Reynolds was Hollywood’s top-grossing star every year from 1978 through 1982, equaling the longest stretch the business had seen since the days of Bing Crosby in the 1940s.

In 1978, he had four movies playing in theaters at the same time.

Reynolds’ career also is marked by the movies he didn’t make. Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson and Bruce Willis surely were grateful after he turned down the roles of Han Solo, retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove and cop John McClane in Star Wars, Terms of Endearment and Die Hard, respectively.

He often said that passing on James L. Brooks’ Endearment was one of his worst career mistakes. Nicholson won the Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Breedlove.

Reynolds also indicated he was Milos Forman’s first choice to play R.P. McMurphy (another Nicholson Oscar-winning turn) in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “backed away” from playing Batman on TV in the 1960s and declined the part made famous by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.

In John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), based on a book by James Dickey, Reynolds starred as macho survivalist Lewis Medlock, one of four guys from Atlanta who head to the wilderness for the weekend.  Shot by Vilmos Zsigmond along the Chattooga River near the Georgia-South Carolina border, it was an arduous production that Boorman shot in sequence.  “When I asked John why, he said, ‘In case one of you drowns,'” Reynolds wrote.

He had good reason. When Reynolds saw test footage of a dummy in a canoe going over the falls in one scene, he told Boorman the scene looked fake. He climbed into the canoe, was sent crashing into the rocks and ended up in the hospital. “I asked Boorman how the new footage looked, and he said, ‘Like a dummy going over the falls,'” Reynolds wrote.

Deliverance, infamous for its uncut 10-minute hillbilly male rape scene (“squeal like a pig”), was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but it lost out to Coppola’s The Godfather.