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Screen Legend and Male Sex Symbol Burt Reynolds, Dies at 82

Burt Reynolds, the charismatic star of such films as DeliveranceThe Longest Yard and Smokey and the Bandit and Cosmopolitan magazine’s first naked male centerfold who set out to have as much fun as possible on and off the screen —  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, his manager, Erik Kritzer, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Reynolds had been battling health issues the past years. In 2013, the actor’s rep said he was in intensive care in a Florida hospital for treatment of flu symptoms, including dehydration.

Reynolds in his elder years blamed his limited mobility on doing his own stunts over the course of his career.  Speaking on the Jonathan Ross Show on ITV, he said in 2015: “I did all my own stunts, which is why I can’t walk now.”

Reynolds appeared often on NBC’s The Tonight Show, and in 1972 he became the first non-comedian to sit in for Johnny Carson as guest host (Reynolds’ first guest that night was his ex-wife, Carne; they hadn’t spoken in six years, and she made a crack about his older girlfriend Shore). He and Carson once engaged in a wild and improvised whipped-cream fight during a taping, and he got to show a side of him the public never knew.

“Before I met Johnny, I’d played a bunch of angry guys in a series of forgettable action movies, and people didn’t know I had a sense of humor,” he wrote. “My appearances on The Tonight Show changed that. My public image went from a constipated actor who never took a chance to a cocky, wisecracking character.”

Reynolds shined in many action films 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 good-ol’-boy fare, the 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.”

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.”

 

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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