Darkly handsome and possessing an irresistible roguish charm, Burt Reynolds rocketed to superstardom in the 70s and early 80s, starring in Smokey and the Bandit (1975), Starting Over (1979), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), and Cannonball Run (1981). While not exactly thought-provoking cinema, the films were good fun, and Reynolds proved wildly popular with the masses, winning the People’s Choice Awards for “Favorite All Around Motion Picture Actor” six years in a row.
Notably, Reynold’s first love was not acting but football. Born in Waycross, Georgia, on February 11, 1936, Reynolds attended Florida State University on an athletic scholarship and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts. On-field injuries and a career-ending car accident triggered the switch from sports to stage. In 1955 Reynolds dropped out of school and moved to New York City, supporting himself as a bouncer and dishwasher while he auditioned.
Reynolds’s first break came in a 1957 revival of Mister Roberts. TV appearances on Riverboat, Gunsmoke, Hawk, and Dan August followed, but his film work in the 60s drew little notice, and it was not until Deliverance (1972) that critics and fans transformed the ex-jock into a sex symbol and star. In April of that same year, Reynolds became Cosmopolitan Magazine’s first male nude centerfold. At times, however, the actor has been in the spotlight for his personal life more than for his acting. This was certainly the case in 1993, when his acrimonious split with his wife, actress Loni Anderson, hit the tabloids.
By the late 80s and 90s, Reynolds was still popular but no longer a superstar. His work on the TV series Night Shade won him an Emmy, and he was directing films and had started ventures, such as The Burt Reynolds Dinner Theaters in Florida. In Boogie Nights (1997) Reynold’s portrayal of a porn film producer, opposite buff up-and-comer Mark Wahlberg, was nothing short of a revelation. The role surprised old fans and won him new admirers as well, and, at year’s end, garnered him a Golden Globe win for Best Supporting Actor and an Oscar® nomination for the same category. One year earlier, his work in Striptease (1996) had also been hailed as one of few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing film. There have been moderate successes of late: Mystery, Alaska (2000) and an appearance in Driven (2001), but there were plenty of straight-to-video missteps during the decade.
Reynolds is still acting as much as ever, even appearing in a remake of The Longest Yard in 2005 and recent sitcom Hitting The Breaks. He looks increasingly frail these days, he is 80, but the twinkle is still there.