Burt Reynolds, the wryly appealing Hollywood heartthrob who carried on a long love affair with moviegoers even though his performances were often more memorable than the films that contained them, died on Thursday in Jupiter, Fla. He was 82.
A spokeswoman for the Martin County Sheriff’s Office in Florida said Reynolds died at the Jupiter Medical Center after being taken there by county Fire Rescue Department personnel from his home in nearby Hobe Sound. A caretaker at the home had called the authorities, apparently after Reynolds experienced chest pains, the spokeswoman said. No cause of death was given.
A self-mocking charmer with laugh-crinkled dark eyes, a rakish mustache and a hairy chest that he often bared onscreen, Reynolds did not always win the respect of critics. But for many years he was ranked among the top 10 movie draws worldwide, and from 1978 through 1982 he ruled the box office as few, if any, stars had done before.
From car-crash comedies like Smokey and the Bandit to romances like Starting Over to the hit television series Evening Shade, Reynolds delighted audiences for four decades, most often playing a good-hearted good ol’ boy seemingly not that different from his offscreen self.
Throughout an often turbulent career that spanned some 100 films and countless television appearances, he had close brushes with death, some resulting from his insistence on doing many of his own dangerous stunts. He braved the raging rapids of the Chattooga River between Georgia and South Carolina for a favourite role, as one of four suburbanite buddies who undertake a journey into America’s heart of darkness, in Deliverance (1972).
A decade later he battled an addiction to prescription medication after his jaw was shattered in a fight scene, an accident that left him wizened and led to false whispers that he was dying of AIDS.
Fellow actors praised Reynolds as an exacting artist who worked hard at his craft and fought to overcome many demons, including a volatile temperament. But he himself projected an air of insouciance and professed not to take his career too seriously. He told The New York Times in 1978, “I think I’m the only movie star who’s a movie star in spite of his pictures, not because of them; I’ve had some real turkeys.”
To many in Hollywood, Reynolds was an enigma. Tormented by self-doubt — he particularly disliked hearing how much he resembled the young Marlon Brando — he was also strong-willed, clashing often with directors and producers. For much of his career he accepted roles, he admitted, “that would be the most fun, not the most challenging,” while turning down more substantive parts, like the one in Terms of Endearment that led to an Academy Award for Jack Nicholson.
Reynolds never won an Oscar, although he was nominated for best supporting actor (and won a Golden Globe) for his performance as a paternalistic director of pornographic movies in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 Boogie Nights. Robin Williams won that year, for Good Will Hunting.
“I once said I’d rather have a Heisman Trophy than an Oscar,” Reynolds, who played football in college, later wrote. “I lied.”
Burton Leon Reynolds Jr, originally called Buddy to distinguish him from his father, was born in Lansing, Michigan, on Feb. 11, 1936, and grew up in Riviera Beach, Florida, where his father was police chief. Many biographical sources say that Reynolds was born in Waycross, Georgia, but in his 2015 memoir, But Enough About Me (written with Jon Winokur), he said he had told that to interviewers to distance himself from his Northern roots. “I grew up a Southern boy who didn’t want to be a Yankee,” he wrote.
Although young Burt acted in high school plays, his passion was football. He went on to play for Florida State University, but his sports career ended in 1955 when he was seriously injured in a car crash.
He later studied acting at Palm Beach Junior College, where in 1956 he won a drama award that included a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse in Hyde Park, New York, about 90 miles north of New York City. He shared a Manhattan apartment with a fellow actor, Rip Torn, and found an agent with the help of Joanne Woodward.
Reynolds signed a seven-year contract with Universal Studios in 1958 and was cast in a new NBC series, Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin. He rubbed shoulders with Hollywood royalty on the Universal lot and, he recalled, received some valuable advice from Spencer Tracy on how to be a successful actor: Don’t let anybody catch you at it.
© 2018 The New York Times