THE MOUNTAINEER – Haywood County’s most well-known and most beloved actor, Herbert “Cowboy” Coward, died in a vehicle accident Wednesday.
Coward was widely known as “The Squirrel Man” for the tame pet squirrel that accompanied him nearly everywhere he went. But he was best known for his role in the 1972 classic movie, “Deliverance.”
His girlfriend, Bertha Brooks, was also killed in the crash, as were constant companions — “Cowgirl,” his pet squirrel, and “Little Man,” his pet dog.
Coward and Brooks were leaving a doctor’s appointment at Midway Medical Center in Clyde around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Coward pulled out in front of a truck as he exited the parking lot.
N.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael Owens confirmed that both Coward and Brooks, as well as Coward’s pets were killed in the accident. Coward and Brooks had to be cut from the vehicle, Owens said.
The 16-year-old driver of the other vehicle was transported to Haywood Regional Medical Center out of an abundance of caution, said Owens.
Traffic heading from Canton to Clyde was rerouted, as both westbound lanes of Carolina Boulevard were closed. The road was cleared and traffic resumed by 4:50 p.m.
Coward landed a role in “Deliverance” based on a personal recommendation from Burt Reynolds. Reynolds became acquainted with Haywood’s authentic mountain man when spending time at Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park in Maggie Valley.
In a 2014 interview with The Mountaineer, Coward said Reynolds advised him to “act real mean.” Coward followed those instructions to a T during the audition role call.
“When I met the director, he said he was glad I dressed for the part, so I yelled at him and told him I was wearing my regular clothes and shoved him against the wall real mean,” Coward said at the time.
That one bold act landed him the part.
For years thereafter, fans would ask him to repeat his most memorable line in the movie, something he was happy to do …