American actor, director and producer Burt Reynolds Jr. was born on February 11, 1936,in Lansing, Michigan. his father was drafted into the United States Army. So Reynolds, his mother and sister joined his father at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and lived there for two years. When Reynolds’s father was sent to Europe, the family moved to Lake City, Michigan, where his mother had been raised. In 1946, the family moved to Riviera Beach, Florida. His father became Chief of Police of Riviera Beach, which is adjacent to the north side of West Palm Beach, Florida. During 10th grade at Palm Beach High School, Reynolds was named First Team All State and All Southern as a fullback, and received multiple scholarship offers.
After graduating from Palm Beach High in West Palm Beach, he attended Florida State University on a football scholarship and played halfback. While at Florida State, Reynolds roomed with college football broadcaster and analyst Lee Corso, and also became a brother of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Reynolds hoped to be named to All-American teams and to have a career in professional football, but he suffered a knee injury and later lost his spleen and injured his other knee in a car accident. These injuries hampered Reynolds’ abilities on the field, and after being beaten in coverage for the game-winning touchdown in a 7-0 loss to North Carolina State on October 12, 1957, he decided to give up football.
Ending his college football career, Reynolds thought of becoming a police officer, but his father suggested that he finish college and become a parole officer. To keep up with his studies, he began taking classes at Palm Beach Junior College (PBJC) in neighboring Lake Park. In his first term at PBJC, Reynolds was in an English class taught by Watson B. Duncan III. Duncan pushed Reynolds into trying out for a play he was producing, Outward Bound. He cast Reynolds in the lead role based on having heard Reynolds read Shakespeare in class, leading to Reynolds winning the 1956 Florida State Drama Award for his performance. In his autobiography, Reynolds refers to Duncan as his mentor and the most influential person in his life.
The Florida State Drama Award included a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse, a summer stock theater, in Hyde Park, New York where he met Joanne Woodward, who helped him find an agent, and was cast in Tea and Sympathy at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. His Broadway debut was Look, We’ve Come Through, after which he went on tour with the cast, driving the bus and appearing on stage. After the tour, Reynolds returned to New York and enrolled in acting classes, along with Frank Gifford, Carol Lawrence, Red Buttons and Jan Murray. He was cast in a revival of Mister Roberts, in which Charlton Heston played the starring role. After the play closed, the director, John Forsythe, arranged a film audition with Joshua Logan for Reynolds. The film was Sayonara (1957). However Reynolds was told that he could not be in the film because he looked too much like Marlon Brando. Logan advised Reynolds to go to Hollywood. However Reynolds worked in a variety of different jobs, such as waiting tables, washing dishes, driving a delivery truck and as a bouncer at the Roseland Ballroom instead.
He began acting on television in the late 1950s, and made his film debut in Angel Baby (1961). Following a regular role as Ben Frazer in Riverboat, he joined the cast of Gunsmoke as “halfbreed” blacksmith Quint Asper. He also played the titular role in the Spaghetti Western Navajo Joe (1966), before playing the title character in police drama Dan August. Reynolds appeared on ABC’s The American Sportsman hosted by outdoors journalist Grits Gresham, who took celebrities on hunting, fishing and shooting trips around the world. He portrayed the lead characters in Impasse (1969) and Shark! Albert R. Broccoli also asked Reynolds to play James Bond, but he turned the role down. Reynolds breakout role was as Lewis Medlock in the film Deliverance after which he played leading roles in a series of action films and comedies many pf which were box office hits, such as White Lightning, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, The Longest Yard, Lucky Lady, Smokey and the Bandit, Semi-Tough and Hooper. He also made his directorial debut in 1976 with Gator, the sequel to White Lightning.
During the 1980s, his leading roles included Malone, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Smokey and the Bandit II The Cannonball Run and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. During the 1990’s he starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s second film Boogie Nights, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In 2002, he voiced Avery Carrington in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City He had support parts in Miss Lettie and Me (2003) and Without a Paddle and two high-profile films: the remake of The Longest Yard and The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) Reynolds received his critical acclaimed performance for The Last Movie Star In May 2018, he joined the cast for Quentin Tarantino’s film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Reynolds also co-authored the children’s book Barkley Unleashed A Pirate, a “whimsical tale that illustrates the importance of perseverance, the wonders of friendship and the power of imagination”. In 1973, Reynolds released the album Ask Me What I Am and in 1983 sang along with Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Despite much success, in 1996 he filed for bankruptcy, due in part to an extravagant lifestyle, a divorce from Loni Anderson and failed investments in some Florida restaurant chains. He recently died September 6, 2018 from Cardiac Arrest and will be sadly missed.