Burt Reynolds, Screen Legend and Sex Symbol, Dies at 82
The '70s sex symbol and ladies man had a storied career going back to the '50s
Burt Reynolds, whose studliness, swagger and snappy patter have helped set TV and movie fans’ pulses racing for nearly half a century, has died. He was 82.
He died Thursday morning at Jupiter Medical in Florida, according to manager Erik Kritzer.
“My uncle was not just a movie icon; he was a generous, passionate and sensitive man who was dedicated to his family, friends, fans and acting students,” Reynolds’ niece, Nancy Lee Hess, said in a statement.
“He has had health issues, however, this was totally unexpected. He was tough. Anyone who breaks their tailbone on a river and finishes the movie is tough. And that’s who he was. My uncle was looking forward to working with Quentin Tarantino (in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and the amazing cast that was assembled.”
Reynolds had been battling health issues the past years. In 2013, the actor’s rep said he was in intensive care in a Florida hospital for treatment of flu symptoms, including dehydration.
In recent years, Reynolds was seen using a cane as he posed for photographs — he was spotted using one at his last major public appearance at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
Reynolds blamed his limited mobility on doing his own stunts over the course of his career. Speaking on the Jonathan Ross Show on ITV, he said in 2015: “I did all my own stunts, which is why I can’t walk now.”
Prior to that, in 2010, he was released from a Florida hospital in March 2010 after having what his manager Erik Kritzer — denying reports that Reynolds had to be rushed to the ER — classified as a “planned bypass operation.”
Upon his release, Reynolds told PEOPLE that he had no idea that his arteries were closed when he went to his doctor for a physical. “My doctor said I needed to undergo bypass surgery immediately. I went home and shaved then had the operation the next day.”
Reynolds added he “was a heart attack waiting to happen,” admitting he felt “fabulous” after the surgery and even declared he wanted to “live to be 199.”
In September 2009, Reynolds checked himself into rehab to deal with addiction problems, telling PEOPLE at the time, “I felt that in spite of the fact that I am supposedly a big tough guy, I couldn’t beat prescription drugs on my own.”
Except for 1972’s Deliverance, based on the James Dickey novel, and 1974’s The Longest Yard, Reynolds filmography consisted largely of good-ol’-boy roles (Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit), though playing a ruthless pornographer in 1997’s Boogie Nights earned him a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
Reynolds’ biography exists largely in his own telling — much of it offered on late-night talk shows — and is instructive in its self-analysis, PEOPLE observed in 1993.
His father Burton Reynolds was the stern police chief of Riviera Beach, Fla. Young Burt, a frequent runaway, openly rebelled at 16. “I can still remember the rhythm of my father’s belt when I got whipped,” he would say later. He was also fond of telling interviewers, “We have a saying in the South: No man is a man until his pappy tells him. And mine never did.”
Reynolds became a college football star at Florida State but “was desperately looking for someone who’d say, ‘You’re grown up, and I approve and love you,’ ” he once recalled.
Reynolds, who as a young man bore a strong resemblance to Marlon Brando in his prime, moved to New York with the hopes of becoming an actor, eventually finding his way to California and early roles on ’50s and ’60s TV Westerns like Gunsmoke. But it was a Cosmopolitan centerfold (that magazine’s first) in 1972 and his kidding about stripping down to all his hairy-chested glory — and other physical subjects — with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show that brought catapulted him to stardom.
By one tally, Reynolds had appeared in more than 90 feature films and 300 TV episodes, including the CBS series Evening Shade, from 1990-94.
An early first marriage to actress Judy Carne (Laugh-In) ended bitterly in 1966 after three years; in a 1985 autobiography she alleged that he beat her.
He sought solace from a string of female celebrities including Chris Evert, Dinah Shore and Tammy Wynette — but it was Sally Field who seemed to leave a lasting impression.
In 2015, while making the rounds to support his new memoir, the actor discussed his failed relationship with Field, whom he called the “love of his life.”
“Even now, it’s hard on me. I don’t know why I was so stupid,” he said. “Men are like that, you know. You find the perfect person, and then you do everything you can to screw it up.”
But Reynolds eventually did risk another plunge into matrimony, this time to TV star Loni Anderson, with whom he would adopt a son, Quinton, born in 1988.
That marriage lasted five years, only to end bitterly in 1993.