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Burt Reynolds, charismatic star of 1970s blockbusters, dies at 82

The Oscar-nominated actor died of cardiac arrest, according to his agent.
by Daniel Arkin /  / Updated 
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Burt Reynolds, the Oscar-nominated actor whose mischievous grin and wily charm made him a screen icon and sex symbol of 1970s Hollywood, died on Thursday. He was 82.

The cause of death was cardiac arrest, his agent, Todd Eisner, said in a statement.

"No comment, just heartbreaking," Eisner said.

Sally Field, who dated Reynolds in the 1970s and teamed up with him for four movies, said in a statement: "My years with Burt never leave my mind. He will be in my history and my heart, for as long as I live. Rest, Buddy."

Reynolds, who sported a black mustache for much of his heyday, led a string of box-office smashes in the mid-1970s, including "Deliverance," "The Longest Yard" and "Smokey and the Bandit," a Southern-fried action comedy in which he played a devil-may-care trucker with a need for speed.

"You know, there are three ways to make it in Hollywood," Reynolds told The New York Times in a 1981 profile. "You can become an 'ac-tor' — a guy with things standing out in his neck — or you can become a personality, or you can become a star. I always wanted to be all three. I think I may have made it."

Reynolds failed to find big-screen glory for much of the 1980s and '90s before rebounding with an acclaimed turn as a San Fernando Valley porn kingpin in 1997's "Boogie Nights," a role that earned him his only Oscar nomination — and some of the best reviews of his career.

In his 2015 memoir, "But Enough About Me," Reynolds appeared to express regret for having chosen light-hearted heartthrob roles over more serious, challenging projects, writing in part: "I didn't open myself to new writers or risky parts because I wasn't interested in challenging myself as an actor, I was interested in having a good time."

But no matter his standing with critics or award givers, Reynolds was a certified A-list star who powered blockbusters and graced magazine covers, winning legions of admirers with his good ol' boy persona and rakish looks.

He famously posed nude on a bearskin rug for a Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold in April 1972, replete with ample chest hair — an era-defining image if there ever was one.

The actor also found himself at the center of more than a few tabloid storms, such as during his bitter divorce from former television star Loni Anderson. (He was also briefly married to Judy Carne, a British actress perhaps best known for hollering a catchphrase — "Sock it to me!" — on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.")

Burton Leon Reynolds was born on Feb. 11, 1936, in Lansing, Michigan, and raised in Florida, where he got his first taste of stardom as an all-Southern Conference running back at Florida State University in the 1950s.

His dream of going to the NFL was scuttled by a knee injury sustained in a game and a later car accident for which his spleen had to be removed.

Reynolds eventually drifted into the entertainment industry, where he picked up work as a stuntman and appeared in small roles on hit TV shows like "Bonanza," "The Twilight Zone" and "Perry Mason."

He cemented his reputation as a reliable leading man with his performance in 1972's "Deliverance," a grim drama about a group of Atlanta businessmen who are violently ambushed by locals during an ill-fated trip into the remote Georgia wilderness.

"It proved I could act," Reynolds wrote of the movie in his memoir.

He enjoyed a winning streak like few modern movie stars have seen over the rest of the decade, commanding the box office with a run of jovial crowd-pleasers: "The Longest Yard"; "Smokey and the Bandit" and a sequel; "Semi-Tough"; "Hooper"; "The Cannonball Run" and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

In the 1980s, Reynolds hit a rocky patch amid a series of commercial misfires — his voice talents in the animated flick "All Dogs Go to Heaven" notwithstanding — tabloid rumors about his health, and marital woes with Anderson, who had a leading role on the sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati" (1978-82).

Reynolds found his footing in the early 1990s with an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning lead role on the football-themed sitcom "Evening Shade."

But he did not achieve big-screen success again until 1997 with the release of "Boogie Nights," Paul Thomas Anderson's affectionate ode to the scuzzy porn underworld of California's San Fernando Valley in the 1970s. Reynolds played Jack Horner, a porn director and father figure for the ensemble.

He scored a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for his performance, but came up short at the Oscars, when the award went to Robin Williams for "Good Will Hunting."

"I once said that I'd rather have a Heisman Trophy than an Oscar," Reynolds wrote in his memoir. "I lied."

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