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Burt Reynolds, 'Smokey And The Bandit' Star, Dies At 82


Burt Reynolds once said, my movies were the kind they show in prisons and airplanes because nobody can leave. He was known for his self-deprecating humor, good looks and performances in films such as "Boogie Nights" and "Deliverance." Reynolds was perhaps best known as Bo Bandit Darville, a bootlegger who spends most of 1977's "Smokey And The Bandit" evading sheriff Buford T. Justice.


BURT REYNOLDS: (As Bo Darville) Before I tell you where I am, Sheriff, there's just one thing I want to say. You must be part coon dog 'cause I've been chased by the best of them, and, son, you make them look like they're all running in slow motion.

CORNISH: Burt Reynolds died today in Jupiter, Fla., from a heart attack. He was 82. Reporter Alex Cohen has this remembrance.

ALEX COHEN, BYLINE: Burt Reynolds' resume included popular films like "Smokey And The Bandit," "Cannonball Run" and "The Longest Yard" about a prison football team.


REYNOLDS: (As Paul Crewe) The one thing that you're going to have to remember is to protect your quarterback - me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Go. Get in there (unintelligible).

COHEN: In real life, Reynolds wanted to be a pro athlete, attending Florida State University on a football scholarship. Those dreams were dashed by injuries, including a car crash which cost him his spleen. But that didn't dampen his appetite for risk-taking. Reynolds told Fresh Air his personality was defined at a young age since his father was the sheriff in their small Florida town.


REYNOLDS: And you go one of two ways. You're either a little angel, or you're crazy. And I thought crazy was the best choice of the two.

COHEN: Crazy was how Reynolds landed his first role on an NBC show called "Frontiers Of Faith." The job required Reynolds to get thrown out of a window on live television. Soon after, he got called for more action-oriented work, as he told "Late Night" host David Letterman in 1984.


REYNOLDS: Whenever they wanted to set someone on fire, you know, or...


REYNOLDS: ...They'd say, we've got a stair fall here, about a 70-foot stair fall. They'd say, get that Reynolds kid.


REYNOLDS: Got the - this kid's got a brain about the size of a pea.


COHEN: Reynolds eventually began getting parts requiring more acting, including recurring roles in shows like "Gunsmoke." But his first big break came in 1972 with "Deliverance."


COHEN: The film was about four men on a canoe trip in rural Georgia that goes horribly awry.


REYNOLDS: (As Lewis) Then survival. Who has the ability to survive? That's the game - survival.

COHEN: Surviving in Hollywood wasn't always easy for Burt Reynolds especially thanks to choices he made off-screen. He once posed naked on a bearskin rug for Cosmopolitan magazine. A messy divorce from actress Loni Anderson led to so many regular appearances in the tabloids that Princess Diana once sent Reynolds a thank-you note for keeping her off the cover of People magazine. His relationship with the press was often rocky.


REYNOLDS: People don't review your performance. They review your life now. This man who was in the centerfold - what the hell has that got to do with the movie that I'm in at the time?

COHEN: But some of the movies he made just weren't all that great. After critical and commercial flops like "Cannonball Run II" and "Smokey And The Bandit 3," Reynolds eventually made a bit of a comeback. He earned an Oscar nomination for the 1997 film "Boogie Nights." Reynolds played an adult film producer resistant to change.


REYNOLDS: (As Jack Horner) You come into my house, my party, to tell me about the future, that the future is tape - videotape and not film, that it's amateurs and not professionals. I'm a filmmaker. That's why I will never make a movie on videotape.

COHEN: In real life, Burt Reynolds may have also failed to accurately see the future. He made poor business choices. Failed investments in several Florida restaurant chains forced him into bankruptcy. Reynolds auctioned off personal belongings, even the Golden Globe he won for "Boogie Nights" and the canoe from "Deliverance." But as he once remarked, all you really have in the end are your stories. If that's true, Burt Reynolds died a wealthy man. For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Cohen is the reporter for NPR's fastest-growing daily news program, Day to Day where she has covered everything from homicides in New Orleans to the controversies swirling around the frosty dessert known as Pinkberry.