Burt Reynolds, the wryly appealing Hollywood heartthrob who carried on a long love affair with moviegoers even though his performances were often more memorable than the films that contained them, has died at 82.
His death was confirmed Thursday by a spokesman for Mr. Reynolds’ agent, Todd Eisner. He provided no other details.
A CBS television affiliate in West Palm Beach, Florida, quoting the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, said he had been taken from his Hobe Sound home to a hospital, where he died Thursday.
A self-mocking charmer with laugh-crinkled dark eyes, a rakish mustache and a hairy chest that he often bared on-screen, Mr. Reynolds did not always win the respect of critics. But for many years he was ranked among the top 10 movie draws worldwide, and from 1978 through 1982 he ruled the box office as few, if any, stars had done before.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Debunking 5 viral rumors about Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser
- Robocalls flooding your cellphone? Here’s how to fight them
- Inside the elite prep-school world of Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh, accuser
- Two women athletes were separately killed in Iowa. But only one suspect — a Mexican — inspired outrage.
- Under right terms, Kavanaugh accuser may testify after all WATCH
From car-crash comedies like “Smokey and the Bandit” to romances like “Starting Over” to the hit television series “Evening Shade,” Mr. Reynolds delighted audiences for four decades, most often playing a good-hearted good ol’ boy seemingly not that different from his off-screen self.
During an often turbulent career that spanned some 100 films and countless TV appearances, he had close brushes with death, some resulting from his insistence on doing many of his own dangerous stunts. He braved the raging rapids of the Chattooga River between Georgia and South Carolina for a favorite role, as one of four suburbanite buddies who undertake a journey into America’s heart of darkness, in “Deliverance” (1972).
A decade later he battled an addiction to prescription medication after his jaw was shattered in a fight scene, an accident that left him wizened and led to false whispers he was dying of AIDS.
Fellow actors praised Mr. Reynolds as an exacting artist who worked hard and fought to overcome many demons, including a volatile temperament. But he himself projected an air of insouciance and professed not to take his career too seriously. He told The New York Times in 1978, “I think I’m the only movie star who’s a movie star in spite of his pictures, not because of them; I’ve had some real turkeys.”
To many in Hollywood, Mr. Reynolds was an enigma. Tormented by self-doubt — he particularly disliked hearing how much he resembled the young Marlon Brando — he was also strong-willed, clashing with directors and producers. For much of his career he took roles, he admitted, “that would be the most fun, not the most challenging,” while turning down more substantive parts, like the “Terms of Endearment” part that led to an Academy Award for Jack Nicholson.
Mr. Reynolds never won an Oscar, although he was nominated for best supporting actor (and won a Golden Globe) for his performance as a paternalistic director of pornographic movies in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 “Boogie Nights.” Robin Williams won that year, for “Good Will Hunting.”
“I once said I’d rather have a Heisman Trophy than an Oscar,” Mr. Reynolds, who played football in college, later wrote. “I lied.”
Burton Leon Reynolds Jr., originally called Buddy to distinguish him from his father, was born in Lansing, Michigan, on Feb. 11, 1936, and grew up in Riviera Beach, Florida, where his father was police chief. Many biographical sources say he was born in Waycross, Georgia, but in his 2015 memoir, “But Enough About Me” (written with Jon Winokur), he said he had told that to interviewers to distance himself from his northern roots. “I grew up a Southern boy who didn’t want to be a Yankee,” he wrote.
His career did not take off until he became a regular on the talk-show circuit in the early 1970s, drawing laughs as the guest of Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and others by self-effacingly presenting himself as, in his words, “the most well-known unknown.”
“I spent 10 years looking virile and saying ‘Put up your hands,’ ” he told critic Roger Ebert in an interview for The New York Times in 1972. “Suddenly I have a personality. People have heard of me.”
One TV host who was particularly captivated by Mr. Reynolds’ charm was singer Dinah Shore. The difference in their ages raised eyebrows — she was almost 20 years older than he was — but shortly after he was a guest on her popular afternoon TV show, the two became inseparable, and they remained a couple for several years.
His appearance in “Deliverance” in 1972 — his first substantial role in a major movie — was a turning point in his career.
His star turn in the film was critically praised and prompted talk of a possible Oscar nomination. That he did not get one was attributed by some, including Mr. Reynolds himself, to his decision to pose artfully nude as a centerfold in an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine that was published at roughly the same time the movie was released. The photo was a sensation, but the image it projected made it harder for Hollywood to take him seriously as an actor.
“It was really stupid. I don’t know what I was thinking,” Mr. Reynolds said in 2016.
Mr. Reynolds took on one of his defining roles in 1977, when he played a daredevil driver who leads the law on a madcap chase from Texas to Georgia in “Smokey and the Bandit,” a box-office smash that spawned two sequels (although he made only a cameo appearance in the third “Smokey” film) and ignited a long-running romance between him and his co-star, Sally Field.
“One of the things people say about ‘Smokey’ is that you watch two people fall in love on the screen,” Mr. Reynolds wrote in “But Enough About Me,” “and it’s true.” Although he once called Field “the love of my life,” their relationship ended after a few years.
By the time he returned to the cars-as-stars genre as a stock-car racer in “Stroker Ace” (1983), his career had peaked.
Mr. Reynolds and his “Stroker Ace” co-star, Loni Anderson, began living together in 1984 and wed in 1988. The marriage ended in 1993, in acrimony unusual even by Hollywood standards. Two decades later, the acrimony remained. “The truth is,” Mr. Reynolds wrote in 2015, “I never did like her.”
Survivors include their son, Quinton.