Happy Birthday Burt Reynolds: Relive the Hollywood Icon’s Best Movie Roles

by Suzanne Halliburton

Burt Reynolds would be 85 today. He passed away in 2018, but the effortless charm he showed in his movie and television roles allows him to live on in our memories.

He’ll always be young, walking with the swagger of Bandit or Paul Crewe or maybe Lewis Medlock.

Let’s take a look at some vintage Burt Reynolds.

Burt Reynolds, The Early Years

The former Florida State football player finally got a break in the early 1960s, when he beat out 300 other actors for the role of Quint, a blacksmith on Gunsmoke. Dennis Weaver was leaving, so showrunners needed a new character. And they got Burt Reynolds. What a find.

Burt Reynolds spent much of the 60s and into the 70s trying to find his place in Hollywood. He was a popular guest on talk shows. He even guest-hosted on The Tonight Show for Johnny Carson and was a frequent guest. Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore and David Frost also invited Reynolds to be on their shows. He was quick with the self-deprecating, one-liners, and people loved him.

Are You Hearing Banjos?

Now, let’s move on to the Burt Reynolds movies we love.

Que the banjos. It’s said that Burt Reynolds earned the role of Lewis Medlock in Deliverance because the director heard him on one of the talk shows.

The movie was a drama about four Atlanta businessmen who take a canoe trip in rural Georgia. It earned three Academy Award nominations, including for best picture. Deliverance also earned five Golden Globe nominations. The Library of Congress added the movie for preservation to the U.S. National Film Registry

With the movie about to be released, Burt Reynolds made news with his relationship with Dinah Shore, who was 20 years older than he was. Plus, Reynolds posed nude for a centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine.

Enjoy a taste of Deliverance:

Burt Reynolds Scores in Football Movies

In 1974, Burt Reynolds starred in The Longest Yard. It’s a prison sports movie — what a novel concept. Reynolds played former NFL quarterback Paul “Wrecking” Crewe who is sentenced to 18 months in prison because he stole his girlfriend’s car and tried to speed away from police. He recruits prisoners to play football games against the guards. Actual NFL players starred in the movie, including Green Bay great  Ray Nitschke.

Reynolds was an all-state football player in high school. And he earned a scholarship to play halfback for Florida State. An injury during his sophomore season ended his football hopes. But Reynolds still could play a believable football player in the movies.

Burt Reynolds starred in another sports movie — Semi-Tough. It’s based on the book written by legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins. Kris Kristofferson, the country singer/songwriter, co-starred with Reynolds.

So, get into a Burt Reynolds, football-playing kind of mood.

Reynolds Winks At the Camera, A Movie Franchise Is Born

Burt Reynolds always will be known as a charming rogue in Smokey and the Bandit. He was Bo Darville, the “Bandit,” who could outrun any cop. He combines with Cleedus “Snowman” Snow as the best pair of bootleggers anyone has seen. The plot of the movie is about Bandit and Snowman getting 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas, to Atlanta. The Snowman drives the truck. His basset hound is with him in the cab. And Bandit rides interference with his brand new black Trans Am.

Other key actors in the movie include Sally Field, who plays a runaway bride and Bandit’s love interest, and Jackie Gleason, puffy sheriff Buford T. Justice. Gleason is the official Smokey.

The movie was No. 2 on the worldwide money list for 1977. The only movie to beat it was Star Wars.

After the movie, Burt Reynolds and Field started dating. They broke up in 1980, but until his death, he often said Field probably was the love of his life.

“I miss her terribly,” Burt Reynolds said nearing the end of his life. “Even now, it’s hard on me. I don’t know why I was so stupid. Men are like that, you know. You find the perfect person, and then you do everything you can to screw it up.”

In 1979, Burt Reynolds starred in the romantic comedy, Starting Over. He was torn between his girlfriend and his ex wife played by Jill Clayburgh, and Candice Bergen.

In 1982, Reynolds starred with Dolly Parton in the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The movie was the fourth-highest grossing musical in the 1980s.

Reynolds was voted the world’s number one box office draw from 1978-82.

Movie Star Tries TV

Reynolds movie career started to slow down, so the star dabbled in television.

Reynolds took a role in the TV show Evening Shade from 1990-94. He earned a Primetime Emmy and a Golden Globe playing Wood Newton, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, who returns home to Evening Shade, Ark. Newton lands a job coaching a woefully bad high school football team.

A Risqué Movie Rejuvenates Reynolds’ Career

By 1997, Reynolds was an aging box office star. He was no longer a romantic lead. Enter Boogie Nights, a movie about the porn industry. Reynolds plays Jack Horner, who shoots porno movies. He won a Golden Glove and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


Reynolds finished his movie career as a character actor. Two of his movies — An Innocent Kiss and Defining Moments — were released after his death in 2018.

Quentin Tarantino cast Reynolds in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margo Robbie. Reynolds role was an 80-year-old blind man who rents his ranch to Charles Manson. But Reynolds died before filming started.

So, happy birthday, Burt Reynolds. You entertained your fans and gave us a lot of joy.