What did we do to deserve a man such as Burt Reynolds?
For decades he stood as an icon of masculinity. Suave, cool, debonair, charming, and, my god, that mustache. He was a beacon of what it means to be a gentleman, and an archetype for cool.
His sudden death yesterday at the age of 82 leaves a hole in the heart of Hollywood, an unfillable void from which we could never hope to recover. Thankfully, he left us nearly 200 roles to ensure that he lives on—if not eternally, then at least for a few decades more. Many were great, some were…not so great, but among them all were a few legends.
Lewis Medlock Deliverance (1972)
Already a staple in Hollywood thanks to his appearances on television, his star was cemented with his turn as seasoned outdoorsman Lewis in John Boorman’s harrowing adaptation of James Dickey’s novel. As leader of the ill-fated journey down the fictional Cahulawassee River, Lewis—and by extension Reynolds—showed us the powerful depths to which a man will sink in order to ensure survival. Nearly fifty years on, Deliverance remains one of the most haunting movies ever made.
Bandit Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Outlaws. Truckers. Money. Coors. How much more quintessentially American can one movie get? Hal Needham’s madcap romp across the southeast is an indelible part of Americana in no small part thanks to Reynolds’s cooler-than-cool performance as The Bandit, an adventurous trucker who takes a difficult delivery just to prove he can do it. Though at this point in his career Reynolds was already a mainstay in the pop cultural landscape, with this he became a legend.
J.J. McClure The Cannonball Run (1981)
His fourth outing with Needham gave Reynolds the distinction of being the highest paid actor in Hollywood, earning him a cool $5 million for just four weeks of work. Beyond that, this madcap dash across country, inspired by an actual event, is a celebration of daring, an ode to the American landscape, and a suped-up honoring of that most American of traditions, the automobile. Reynolds, as J.J. McClure, outcooled his Rat Pack co-stars Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin—no easy feat—and drove his way into lexicon of badassdom.
Jack Horner Boogie Nights (1997)
The disdain Reynolds felt for his role as pornographer Jack Horner is, by this point, the stuff of legend, but whatever problems Reynolds might have had for the film, its subject, or director Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have worked in the film’s—and his own—favor. Even with his misgivings he earned an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win and revitalized his career. Reynolds delivers a perfect performance, breaking the mold of his history and proving that he was much, much more than a one-trick pony and reminding audiences the world over just what he was capable of as an artist.
Burt Reynolds Archer (2012)
Secret Agent Sterling Archer made no secret of his love for Burt Reynolds over the years, styling much of his own persona off much of what gleaned from watching his movies as a kid, but how does hero worship work when your hero is dating your mother? Hilariously, as it turns out. How many of younger generations were introduced to the debonair mystique of Reynolds with his voice over appearance here, which largely satirized his ostentatious 70s and 80s image? If just a handful went on to seek out White Lightning or Gator then, well, I guess its job was done. Add to that Reynolds’s deadpan delivery of Archer’s trademarked absurdist humor and you’ve got an amazing late career boost that proved Reynolds had no problem poking a little fun at himself.