Burt Reynolds, the charismatic star of such films as Deliverance, The Longest Yard and Smokey and the Bandit who set out to have as much fun as possible on and off the screen — and wildly succeeded — has died. He was 82.
Reynolds, who received an Oscar nomination when he portrayed porn director Jack Horner in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) and was the No. 1 box-office attraction for a five-year stretch starting in the late 1970s, died Thursday morning at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida.
The cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest.
Always with a wink, Reynolds shined in many action films (often doing his own stunts) and in such romantic comedies as 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, a bitter disappointment for him.)
“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.”
Still, Reynolds had nothing to apologize for. He 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 an 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.
Survivors also include his son, Quinton; he and Anderson adopted him when he was 3 days old.
Despite the ups and downs of a Hollywood life, Reynolds seemed to have no regrets.
“I always wanted to experience everything and go down swinging,” he wrote in the final paragraph of his memoir. “Well, so far, so good. I know I’m old, but I feel young. And there’s one thing they can never take away: Nobody had more fun than I did.”