HOLLYWOOD (CBSLA/CNN) — Actor Burt Reynolds, who starred in iconic films like “Deliverance” and “Boogie Nights,” has died, according to his manager. He was 82.
Reynolds died of cardiac arrest at Jupiter Medical Center in the Miami metro area, his publicist told WPEC-TV.
“I don’t think anyone knew just how ill he was or that he was this close to death,” veteran entertainment reporter Jeanne Wolf, who was friends with Reynolds, told CBS2 Thursday.
Reynolds, who resided in the Miami metropolitan community of Jupiter, rose to fame for his breakout role as Lewis Medlock in 1972’s “Deliverance.” He followed that up with a series of hits in the 1970s and 1980s including “The Longest Yard,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” “The Cannonball Run” and the “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Prior to starring in movies, he spent several seasons on the hit series “Gunsmoke” in the early 1960s.
“It’s hard to remember just what a hugely popular star he was,” Wolf said. “There was nobody like him.”
In 1998, Reynolds scored his sole Oscar nomination for best supporting actor after his portrayal of a porn film producer in the film “Boogie Nights,” despite his dislike of the film and its apparent glorification of the porn industry.
“The funny thing is that Burt knew how gigantic he was, and always had a little chip on his shoulder that he wasn’t appreciated enough as an actor,” Wolf said.
Born in south Georgia, Reynolds and his family moved to Michigan and eventually wound up in southeastern Florida, according to the website of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1993.
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At Palm Beach High School, he first made a name for himself as a football star and earned an athletic scholarship to Florida State University. But when injuries derailed a promising athletic career, Reynolds turned to acting.
He then scored small parts in the late 1950s before landing a role in the New York City Center revival of “Mister Roberts” in 1957, as well as a recurring spot on “Gunsmoke.”
By 1974, Reynolds had hit it big and starred as an ex-football player who landed in prison in the film “The Longest Yard.” Two years earlier, he broke taboo and posed nude in Cosmopolitan magazine, which helped cement his growing status as a sex symbol.
He later said he regretted that centerfold image, which showed Reynold’s spread out across a bearskin rug, and said it distracted attention from his “Deliverance” co-stars and likely cost them an Academy Award.
Reynolds’ notoriety soared through the late 1970s and 1980s, during which time he spearheaded the “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Cannonball Run” movie franchises. He also earned People’s Choice Awards in 1979, 1982 and 1983 as all-around male entertainer of the year.
But he also turned down some of the biggest roles in Hollywood history.
From James Bond to Hans Solo in George Lucas’ 1977 blockbuster “Star Wars,” Reynolds also reportedly was among Paramount Pictures’ top choices to play Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 epic “The Godfather.”
Again, the star expressed regrets.
“I took the part that was the most fun… I didn’t take the part that would be the most challenging,” Reynolds said in an interview with CNN.
His love life often drew headlines. There was a May-December romance with singer/talk show host Dinah Shore, a brief marriage (1963-65) to “Laugh-In” star Judy Carne, a dalliance with sex kitten Mamie Van Doren,
After a high-profile People Magazine cover, there was a marriage (1988) to “WKRP” actress Loni Anderson, there was an equally high-profile divorce in 1993, She and Reynolds adopted a son, Quinton, in 1988.
A year after the divorce, Anderson released her version of events in a tell-all book called “My Life in High Heels.”
“He had a hard time with women, his divorce from Lonnie Anderson was very ugly, continued ugly for a long time,” Wolf said.
Sally Field remembered Reynolds fondly.
She issued a statement that said, “There are times in your life that are so indelible, they never fade away. They stay alive, even forty years later. 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.”
He would file for bankruptcy in the late 90s, And later he would be open about a series of health issues.
Years later, with a mustache gone gray, and looking frail, he discussed health issues that included open heart surgery. Reynolds also checked into a drug rehab clinic in 2009. The purpose was “to regain control of his life” after becoming addicted to painkillers prescribed following back surgery, his manager said.
Once among Hollywood’s highest-paid actors, Reynolds later fell into financial trouble amid private ventures in an Atlanta restaurant and a professional sports team, though he continued to make cameo appearances and teach acting classes.
“I worked as an actor for 60 years, I must have something I can give,” he told CNN.
Reynolds made an acting resurgence in recent years, appearing in numerous films and TV shows. He was cast in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino directed “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” scheduled for release next year.
It was unclear at press time if Reynolds had completed work on the fim.
In 2010, according to CBS News, Reynolds underwent a quintuple heart bypass one year after entering rehab. In 2013, he was admitted to the intensive care unit of a Florida hospital due to dehydration and severe flu symptoms.
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