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Burt Reynolds: A Hollywood Legend and Icon

Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds was a charismatic and talented actor who captivated audiences for decades with his performances in iconic films such as Deliverance, The Longest Yard, and Smokey and the Bandit. He was known for his good looks, charm, and the ability to perform his own stunts in action-packed films. His career spanned over 60 years, earning him numerous awards and accolades, as well as the respect and admiration of his peers.

Early Life and Education

Born Burton Leon Reynolds Jr. on February 11, 1936, in Lansing, Michigan, Burt Reynolds was raised in Palm Beach County, Florida. His father, Burton Milo Reynolds, was an Army veteran who later became the police chief in Riviera Beach, Florida. Burt’s mother, Harriet Fernette “Fern” Reynolds, was a head nurse who encouraged her son to read and pursue his interests.

Burt Reynolds was a talented athlete in high school and college. He attended Florida State University on a football scholarship, where he played as a running back. Unfortunately, a knee injury during his sophomore year ended his football career and his time at Florida State. After this setback, Reynolds enrolled at Palm Beach Junior College and discovered his passion for acting. This eventually led to a scholarship and a summer-stock stint at the Hyde Park Playhouse in New York, where he roomed with another aspiring actor, Rip Torn, and studied at The Actors Studio.

Television Beginnings

Burt Reynolds’ early acting career began with appearances on Broadway and television. In 1957, he landed his first big break after appearing in a New York City Center revival of Mister Roberts. This led to a television contract and recurring roles on popular series such as Riverboat, Gunsmoke, Hawk, and Dan August. His charm and good looks made him a familiar face on television and a frequent guest on talk shows, including Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.

Breakthrough Role and Rise to Stardom

Reynolds’ breakthrough role came in 1972 when he starred as Lewis Medlock in the critically acclaimed film Deliverance. This role showcased his acting abilities and established him as both a star and a serious actor. He gained further fame and recognition when he posed nude on a bearskin rug for a Cosmopolitan centerfold, making him a major sex symbol of the 1970s.

The success of Deliverance led to starring roles in numerous box office hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including White Lightning, The Longest Yard, Semi-Tough, Smokey and the Bandit, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and The Cannonball Run. Reynolds often played the role of a lovable rogue, and many of his films showcased his talent for performing his own stunts and engaging in high-speed car chases.

Personal Relationships

Throughout his life, Burt Reynolds was romantically linked to several high-profile women. He was married to British actress Judy Carne from 1963 to 1966, and later to Loni Anderson, best known for her role on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, from 1988 to 1993. Both marriages were tumultuous, and his divorce from Anderson was particularly messy.

Reynolds also had relationships with singer Dinah Shore, actress Inger Stevens, and tennis player Chris Evert. He dated his Smokey and the Bandit co-star Sally Field and spoke highly of her in his 2015 memoir, But Enough About Me. Field later released a statement expressing her love and admiration for Reynolds after his death.

Career Revival and Later Work

After a string of box office failures and the cancellation of his ABC private detective series B.L. Stryker, Reynolds rejuvenated his career by starring in the CBS sitcom Evening Shade. The show, created by Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, ran from 1990 to 1994 and earned Reynolds an Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series.

In 1997, Reynolds received critical acclaim for his portrayal of porn director Jack Horner in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Boogie Nights. This role earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, a Golden Globe Award, and a BAFTA Award nomination.

Reynolds continued to work in film and television throughout the 2000s, appearing in an Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard, a reboot of The Dukes of Hazzard, and various sitcoms like The King of Queens and My Name Is Earl. He also lent his voice to animated shows such as Robot Chicken, American Dad!, and Archer.

Awards and Accolades

Throughout his career, Burt Reynolds received numerous awards and honors for his work in film and television. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy twice and won the award once for his role in Boogie Nights. He also won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role in Evening Shade.

Reynolds was inducted into the Hall of Fame Great Western Performers in Film at the Western Heritage Induction and Awards Ceremony in Oklahoma City in 2022. This honor recognized his contributions to the preservation of the American West and his iconic portrayals in Western films and television series.

Philanthropy and Legacy

Burt Reynolds was not only an actor but also a generous, passionate, and sensitive man who was dedicated to his family, friends, fans, and acting students. He was known for his love of the American West, its culture and history, and his efforts to rescue wild mustangs from out West and bring them to his ranch in Jupiter, Florida, to be cared for.

Death and Legacy

Burt Reynolds passed away on September 6, 2018, at the age of 82, at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida. His cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest. He is survived by his adopted son, Quinton Anderson Reynolds, whom he and Loni Anderson adopted when he was just three days old.

Despite the ups and downs of his life and career, Reynolds remained unapologetic and proud of his accomplishments. In his memoir, he wrote, “I always wanted to experience everything and go down swinging. 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.”

Throughout his career, Burt Reynolds left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry and the hearts of his fans. His charisma, talent, and passion for acting will be remembered for generations to come.