Burton Leon Reynolds Jr. (Feb 11, 1936 – Sept 6, 2018) reportedly died of cardiac arrest at a Florida hospital. He had been suffering from heart problems for a number of years.
Reynolds was an American actor, director, and producer. He first rose to prominence starring in television series such as Gunsmoke (1962–1965), Hawk (1966), and Dan August (1970–1971).
His breakout film role was as Lewis Medlock in Deliverance (1972). Reynolds played the leading role in a number of box office hits, such as The Longest Yard (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Semi-Tough (1977), Hooper (1978), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982).
After a few box office failures, Reynolds returned to television, starring in the sitcom Evening Shade (1990–1994). He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Boogie Nights (1997).
Reynolds was the son of Fern H. (née Miller; 1902–1992) and Burton Milo Reynolds (1906–2002). He had Dutch, English, Scots-Irish, and Scottish ancestry, and is also said to have had Cherokee roots.
During his career, Reynolds often claimed to have been born in Waycross, Georgia, but confirmed in 2015 he was actually born in Lansing, Michigan.
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He was born on February 11, 1936, and in his autobiography stated that Lansing is where his family lived when his father was drafted into the United States Army. Reynolds, his mother and sister joined his father at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and lived there for two years. When Reynolds’s father was sent to Europe, the family moved to Lake City, Michigan, where his mother had been raised.
In 1946, the family moved to Riviera Beach, Florida. His father became Chief of Police of Riviera Beach, which is adjacent to the north side of West Palm Beach, Florida. During 10th grade at Palm Beach High School, Reynolds was named First Team All State and All Southern as a fullback, and received multiple scholarship offers.
After graduating from Palm Beach High in West Palm Beach, he attended Florida State University on a football scholarship and played halfback. (Story continues below … )
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While at Florida State, Reynolds roomed with college football broadcaster and analyst Lee Corso, and also became a brother of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
Reynolds hoped to be named to All-American teams and to have a career in professional football, but he suffered a knee injury in the first game of his sophomore season, and later that year he lost his spleen and injured his other knee as a result of a car accident.
These injuries hampered Reynolds’ abilities on the field, and after being beaten in coverage for the game-winning touchdown in a 7-0 loss to North Carolina State on October 12, 1957, he decided to give up football.
Ending his college football career, Reynolds thought of becoming a police officer, however his father suggested he finish college and become a parole officer.
To keep up with his studies, he began taking classes at Palm Beach Junior College (PBJC) in neighboring Lake Park. In his first term at PBJC, Reynolds was in an English class taught by Watson B. Duncan III. Duncan pushed Reynolds into trying out for a play he was producing, Outward Bound.
He cast Reynolds in the lead role based on having heard Reynolds read Shakespeare in class, leading to Reynolds winning the 1956 Florida State Drama Award for his performance. In his autobiography, Reynolds refers to Duncan as his mentor and the most influential person in his life.
The Florida State Drama Award included a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse, a summer stock theater, in Hyde Park, New York. Reynolds saw the opportunity as an agreeable alternative to more physically-demanding summer jobs, but did not yet see acting as a possible career. While working there, Reynolds met Joanne Woodward, who helped him find an agent, and was cast in Tea and Sympathy at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City.
After his Broadway debut Look, We’ve Come Through, he received favorable reviews for his performance and went on tour with the cast, driving the bus and appearing on stage. After the tour, Reynolds returned to New York and enrolled in acting classes, along with Frank Gifford, Carol Lawrence, Red Buttons and Jan Murray.
After a botched improvisation in acting class, Reynolds briefly considered returning to Florida, but he soon gained a part in a revival of Mister Roberts, in which Charlton Heston played the starring role. After the play closed, the director, John Forsythe, arranged a film audition with Joshua Logan for Reynolds. The film was Sayonara (1957).
Reynolds was told that he could not be in the film because he looked too much like Marlon Brando. Logan advised Reynolds to go to Hollywood, but Reynolds did not feel confident enough to do so. He worked in a variety of different jobs, such as waiting tables, washing dishes, driving a delivery truck and as a bouncer at the Roseland Ballroom. Reynolds writes that, while working as a dockworker, he was offered $150 to jump through a glass window on a live television show.
Film and television
He began acting on television in the late 1950s, and made his film debut in Angel Baby (1961). Following a regular role as Ben Frazer in Riverboat, he joined the cast of Gunsmoke as “halfbreed” blacksmith Quint Asper, and performed that role during the years just before the departure of Chester Goode and just after the appearance of Festus Haggen. He used his television work to secure leading roles for low-budget films and played the titular role in the spaghetti western Navajo Joe (1966), before playing the title character in police drama Dan August (1970–71).
He later disparaged the series, telling Johnny Carson that Dan August had “two forms of expression: mean and meaner”. Reynolds appeared on ABC’s The American Sportsman hosted by outdoors journalist Grits Gresham, who took celebrities on h unting, fishing and shooting trips around the world. Saul David considered Reynolds to star in Our Man Flint, but Lew Wasserman rejected him. He had the lead in Impasse (1969) and Shark!, the latter with director Sam Fuller who disowned the rough cuts.
Albert R. Broccoli asked Reynolds to play James Bond, but he turned the role down, saying “An American can’t play James Bond. It just can’t be done.” Reynolds made his breakout role in Deliverance and gained notoriety when he posed naked in the April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan.
During the 1970s, Reynolds played leading roles in a series of action films and comedies, such as White Lightning (1973), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (also 1973), Lucky Lady (1975) or Smokey and the Bandit (1977). He made his directorial debut in 1976 with Gator, the sequel to White Lightning. During the 1980s, his leading roles included The Cannonball Run (1981) and Malone (1987) and All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). After starring in Paul Thomas Anderson’s second film Boogie Nights (1997), Reynolds refused to star in Anderson’s third film, Magnolia (1999).
Despite this, Reynolds was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Boogie Nights. He voiced Avery Carrington in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City released in 2002. He had support parts in Miss Lettie and Me (2003) and Without a Paddle (2004), and two high-profile films: the remake of The Longest Yard (2005) and The Dukes of Hazzard (2005). Reynolds turned in a critically-acclaimed performance in the drama The Last Movie Star (2017), one of his last films. In May 2018, he joined the cast for Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but died before shooting his scenes.
Reynolds co-authored the 1997 children’s book Barkley Unleashed: A Pirate’s Tail, a “whimsical tale [that] illustrates the importance of perseverance, the wonders of friendship and the power of imagination”.
In 1973, Reynolds released the album Ask Me What I Am and in 1983 sang along with Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
Despite much success, in 1996 he filed for bankruptcy, due in part to an extravagant lifestyle, a divorce from Loni Anderson and failed investments in some Florida restaurant chains. The filing was under Chapter 11, from which Reynolds emerged two years later.
Reynolds’ close friends included Johnny Carson, James Hampton, Dom DeLuise, Jerry Reed, Charles Nelson Reilly, Tammy Wynette, Lucie Arnaz, Adrienne Barbeau, Tawny Little, Dinah Shore and Chris Evert. Reynolds was married to Judy Carne from 1963 to 1965, and to Loni Anderson from 1988 to 1993. He and Anderson adopted a son, Quinton. Reynolds and Dinah Shore were in a relationship in the early ’70s for about five years. He had a relationship from about 1977 to 1982 with actress Sally Field.
In the late 1970s, Reynolds opened Burt’s Place, a nightclub restaurant in the Omni International Hotel in the Hotel District of Downtown Atlanta, and briefly operated a second version at Lenox Square. Reynolds was a life-long fan of American football, a result of his collegiate career, and was a minority owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL from 1982 to 1986. The team’s name was inspired by the Smokey and the Bandit trilogy and Skoal Bandit, a primary sponsor for the team as a result of also sponsoring Reynolds’ race team.
Reynolds also co-owned a NASCAR Winston Cup team, Mach 1 Racing, with Hal Needham, which ran the #33 Skoal Bandit car with driver Harry Gant. Reynolds was awarded an honorary doctorate from Florida State University in 1981 and later endorsed the construction of a new performing arts facility in Sarasota, Florida. He also owned a private theater in Jupiter, Florida, with a focus on training young performers looking to enter show business.
While filming City Heat, Reynolds was struck in the face with a metal chair and had temporomandibular joint dysfunction. He lost thirty pounds from not eating. The painkillers he was prescribed led to addiction, which lasted several years. Reynolds underwent back surgery in 2009 and a quintuple heart bypass in February 2010.
On August 16, 2011, Merrill Lynch Credit Corporation filed foreclosure papers, claiming Reynolds owed $1.2 million on his home in Hobe Sound, Florida. Reynolds owned the Burt Reynolds Ranch, where scenes for Smokey and the Bandit were filmed and which once had a petting zoo, until its sale during bankruptcy. In April 2014, the 153-acre rural property was rezoned for residential use and the Palm Beach County school system could sell it to residential developer K. Hovnanian Homes. Reynolds also once purchased a mansion on a tract of land in Loganville, Georgia while married to Loni Anderson.
Reynolds reportedly died of cardiac arrest at a Florida hospital on September 6, 2018. He had been suffering from heart problems for a number of years. Source: Wikipedia.