The Bandit

I read the news today. Oh, boy.

I’m sitting in the rear of a local business, conducting an interview with the owner for an upcoming article. Then I catch a glimpse of something over his shoulder on the wall-mounted flat-screen TV:

BREAKING NEWS: ACTOR BURT REYNOLDS DIES AT 82.

Say what?

Pshaw. It has to be another celebrity death hoax. You can’t believe everything you hear nowadays.

I finished the interview, and by the time I was back in the office, my Facebook newsfeed was saturated with reports from reliable sources. Shaking my head, I had to accept that it was true.

I’d seen recent photos of Burt looking frail, his skin as pale and thin as onionskin paper. In one photo, his eyes were so hollow, it looked like someone wearing a cheap rubber Burt Reynolds mask. What really surprised me was his age. How could “The Bandit” be 82 years old?

Burt began his career playing supporting roles on TV shows like Riverboat, Gunsmoke, and The Twilight Zone. The first time I saw him was when he starred in a 1970-71 police drama called Dan August. I remember getting a weekly adrenaline rush whenever I saw the low-angle shot in the opening credits of him diving across the floor and sliding right into the camera.

Even after he found success in movies, Burt remained a fixture on TV for decades, appearing in shows like The Golden Girls, Evening Shade, X-Files, and King of Queens, and lending his voice to animated series like King of the Hill, Duckman, and Archer.

Although Burt Reynolds was not an Olivier, a De Niro, Brando, or Pacino, he was arguably one of the most charismatic actors in modern American cinema. When he was on the screen, you couldn’t look away. His portrayal of backwoods prison parolee Gator McKlusky in 1973’s White Lightning showcased his dramatic acting chops, while his role as Bo “Bandit” Darville in Smokey and the Bandit displayed his comedic flair. In one of my favorite moments, a highway patrol car chases his 1977 Trans Am at night through the streets of a small town. The Trans Am suddenly veers off the street and hides behind a small building. When the cruiser is gone, Burt turns and looks directly into the camera with a sly grin before flooring the gas pedal and peeling away. I still remember how the theater audience laughed at that moment.

Although he admitted Smokey and the Bandit was his biggest commercial success, Burt felt Deliverance was his best film.I agree the acting in Deliverance was top-notch, but I find the movie itself depressing and some scenes very difficult to watch.

One of my favorite Burt Reynolds films is Hooper, released in 1978. The movie didn’t win any Oscars, but it’s full of action, humor, eye-popping stunts —and a good chunk of it was filmed in Alabama. In one of my favorite scenes, filmed at the old Northington Hospital complex in Tuscaloosa, stuntmen Sonny Hooper and his partner Ski (Burt and Jan-Michael Vincent) expertly guide their fire engine red Trans Am around collapsing buildings, running pedestrians, crashing cars, and endless explosions. In one shot, a huge smokestack topples to the ground, crushing one car and barely missing the Trans Am. The sequence culminates with the Trans Am roaring down the highway, firing its rocket boosters, and soaring over a gorge where an old bridge has just collapsed.

The internet is rife with misinformation, including celebrity death hoaxes. A few months ago, one story claimed actor Michael J. Fox had passed away. Although it appeared to be legitimate, I had doubts about its authenticity. That time, I was right. It proved to be false.

I really wish this one was a hoax.

Eastbound and down. Eighteen wheels a-rollin’.

“The Bandit” is gone.  78

 

 

 

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