BURT REYNOLDS

BURT REYNOLDS

Burt Reynolds, the handsome film and television star known for his acclaimed performances in “Deliverance” and “Boogie Nights,” commercial hits such as “Smokey and the Bandit” and for an active off-screen love life which included relationships with Loni Anderson and Sally Field, has died at age 82.

His death was confirmed Thursday by his agent Todd Eisner. In a statement, his niece, Nancy Lee Hess, called his death “totally unexpected,” although she acknowledged he had health issues.

“He was tough. Anyone who breaks their tail bone on a river and finishes the movie is tough. And that’s who he was. My uncle was looking forward to working with Quentin Tarantino, and the amazing cast that was assembled,” she said, referring to the upcoming film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

Hess noted her uncle’s kindness and generosity, and thanked “all of his amazing fans who have always supported and cheered him on, through all of the hills and valleys of his life and career.”

The mustachioed, smirking Reynolds inspired a wide range of responses over his long, erratic career: critical acclaim and critical scorn, popular success and box office bombs. Reynolds made scores of movies, ranging from lightweight fare such as the hits “The Cannonball Run” and “Smokey and the Bandit” to more serious films like “The Longest Yard” and “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.”

He received some of the film world’s highest and lowest honors. He was nominated for an Oscar for “Boogie Nights,” the Paul Thomas Anderson film about the pornography industry; won an Emmy for the TV series “Evening Shade,” and was praised for his role in “Deliverance.”

But he also was a frequent nominee for the Razzie, the tongue-in-cheek award for Hollywood’s worst performance, and his personal life provided ongoing drama, particularly after an acrimonious divorce from Anderson in 1995. He had a troubled marriage to Judy Carne, a romance with Dinah Shore and a relationship with Field damaged by his acknowledged jealousy of her success.

Through it all he presented a genial persona, often the first to make fun of his own conflicted image.

“My career is not like a regular chart, mine looks like a heart attack,” he told The Associated Press in 2001. “I’ve done over 100 films, and I’m the only actor who has been canned by all three networks. I epitomize longevity.”

Reynolds was candid about his flops, his regrets and about his many famous friends. He would call posing nude for Cosmopolitan one of his biggest mistakes because it undermined the respect he had gained for “Deliverance.” He revered Spencer Tracy as an early mentor and came to know Johnny Carson, Clint Eastwood, Frank Sinatra and many others. “Burt Reynolds was one of my heroes,” tweeted Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He was a trailblazer. He showed the way to transition from being an athlete to being the highest paid actor, and he always inspired me. He also had a great sense of humor — check out his Tonight Show clips. My thoughts are with his family.”

Born in Lansing, Michigan and raised in Florida, he was an all-Southern Conference running back at Florida State University in the 1950s. Reynolds appeared headed to the NFL until a knee injury and an automobile accident ended his chances. He dropped out of college and drifted to New York, where he worked as a dockhand, dance-hall bouncer, bodyguard and dish washer before returning to Florida in 1957 and enrolling in acting classes at Palm Beach Junior College.

He won the Florida Drama Award in 1958 for his performance in the role John Garfield made famous in “Outward Bound.” He was subsequently discovered by a talent agent at New York’s Hyde Park Playhouse.

Early theater roles included performances in “Mister Roberts” and “Look: We’ve Come Through.”

After moving to Hollywood, he found work as a stuntman, including one job that consisted of flying through a glass window. As a star, he often performed his own stunts, and he played a stuntman in the 1978 film “Hooper,” one of his better reviewed films.

Because of his dark features, he was cast frequently as an Indian early in his career, including the title role in the 1967 spaghetti western “Navajo Joe.” He also played Iroquois Indian detective John Hawk in the 1966 TV series “Hawk.”

In the 1960s he made dozens of guest-star appearances on such TV shows as “Bonanza,” “The Twilight Zone” and “Perry Mason.” His first film role came in 1961’s “Angel Baby,” and he followed it with numerous other mediocre movies, the kind, he liked to joke, that were shown in airplanes and prisons.

Burton Leon Reynolds was born on Feb. 11, 1936, the son of a police chief who looked down on his son’s ambitions to become an actor. After several years in California, he returned in 1969 to Florida, where he had gone to college. He bought eight acres of waterfront property in the wealthy community of Jupiter and spent most of the rest of his life there, devoting much of his later years to his only son, Quinton, whom he had adopted with Anderson.

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