Burt Reynolds, a Georgia Hero

Yesterday we lost the most popular movie star of the 1970s, at the age of 82. In the clip above, a pleasant talk with Johnny Carson, Burt Reynolds flashes the charisma that made him so beloved among both men and women. One testament to his star power: he was allegedly offered but turned down virtually every hottest screen role you can imagine, from James Bond to Han Solo (and regretted it). Clearly, everybody wanted a piece of Burt.

Born in Georgia (or actually it was Michigan, as he finally admitted in 2015), Burt Reynolds and his family moved around a lot since his father was in the army. Eventually, they ended up in Florida where Reynolds was destined to become a football player, but several injuries put an end to those dreams. As a student, he started acting a little, but it wasn’t until he came to New York that he started considering it as a possible career. He found nice work in Broadway plays, but also juggled several other jobs.

In the late 1950s, Reynolds appeared on TV shows and eventually landed a recurring role on Gunsmoke. His first movie was Angel Baby (1961). But it wasn’t until 1972 that he had his major breakthrough, starring in the masterpiece Deliverance, which remains his greatest film. That year he also posed naked in Cosmopolitan, which didn’t exactly hurt his career. Reynolds started getting good film roles, appearing in The Longest Yard (1974) as a football player.

He became the biggest star in the world after the tremendous success of Smokey and the Bandit (1977), where he also met his future girlfriend Sally Field, the woman he later called “the love of his life”. That movie seemed like a natural step from his earlier films and cemented his status as a likable, laidback Southern macho hero, the kind of guy who didn’t take anything too seriously, but could still be counted on to do the right thing.

Reynolds had a few good years after that, making Hooper (1978), where he played a stuntman, and the romantic comedy Starting Over (1979). But he also made a disappointing number of bad sequels and other misfires that seriously hurt his career in the 1980s. Still, even if the movie wasn’t a masterpiece his charm was still intact, as in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), starring alongside Dolly Parton.

Reynolds also found additional success in the sitcom Evening Shade (1990-1994), which won him an Emmy and a Golden Globe. His last great success was Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), where he played a porn producer. He was terrific in that, earning an Oscar nomination, but he didn’t care for the movie, oddly enough. But it was a prime example of what Reynolds could do if he made an effort, as was Hooper; he was also praised for the comedy Breaking In (1989), where he played a safecracker.

Over the years, Burt Reynolds became a tabloid favorite, due to disastrous relationships and business decisions, as well as poor health. However, after his death everybody found nice things to say about him. And the state of Georgia? Well, its local media acknowledged last night that even if he wasn’t born there no one else had done as much as Burt Reynolds to help Georgia become a lucrative place to shoot your movie or TV show.

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