It takes a lot of cool, charisma and confidence to pose naked on a bearskin rug. It takes even more for that photo to become iconic, still living on the walls of bathrooms and bar rooms across the globe decades after it was originally taken and well after your last major on-screen role.
That was Burt Reynolds, the icon of old-school Hollywood celebrity and masculinity who sadly passed away today, as reported by TMZ, in Florida from cardiac arrest. He was 82.
Obviously that photo (one he years later reportedly regretted) is far from the most notable part of Reynolds' legacy, leaving behind an overwhelming pantheon of legendary film performances and a reminder of a bygone era of true movie stars, when audiences flocked to see a movie in droves not because of the studio or the expanded universe, but because of the star's name at the top of the poster.
It took a while for Reynolds to rise into that stardom. Starting as a football player at Florida State University, Reynolds spent the first decade or so of his career slowly growing as a name on television shows like "Gunsmoke," "Riverboat," "Hawk" and "Dan August" before finally breaking out on the big screen in 1972's outdoors thriller "Deliverance." The film would earn three Academy Award nominations (not including Best Actor, something Reynolds would later blame on the bear rug shoot) score the fifth highest box office of the year and, for Reynolds, begin a decade-long run of incredible movie stardom.
In just the following five years, Reynolds would appear in Woody Allen's early hit "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)," the prison football comedy "The Longest Yard" and the Southern-fried actioner "White Lightning" while also popping up on television for NBC's "The Tonight Show," even guest-hosting in 1972. And that was all before the crowning point of the '70s run: "Smokey and the Bandit," the second highest grossing movie of 1977.
The No. 1 film that year? "Star Wars," which could've featured Reynolds as Han Solo but the growing phenom turned the role down.
In fact, Reynolds' career is almost as full of fascinating "what ifs" as it is hit films. The movie star was offered the role of James Bond after George Lazenby's then hated but now reclaimed turn in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," but turned it down, as well as Jack Nicholson's parts in "Terms of Endearment" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and Richard Gere's role in "Pretty Woman." Even for a star as big as Reynolds, finding that perfect role or scoring that classic movie is a fickle, unpredictable and cruel business.
Still, even in his later years, far from his incredible '70s spree or even the celebrity-drunk good-time haze of the "Cannonball Run" films and other early '80s work, Reynolds' filmography and roles were undoubtedly his. And even if his big-screen star waned in the back half of his career, taking on roles in the likes of "Cop and a Half" or "The Dukes of Hazard" movie (though he also finally scored the Oscar nomination he thought he missed out on before in 1997 with Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights") his presence and big-screen persona never did. He still always seemed like a star, the sly, ragtag, fun-loving swagger of the coolest guy in the room.
Over the last decade of his career, Reynolds battled health woes – most notably a quintuple heart bypass in 2010 – that likely limited his ability to work. However, he did star in the fittingly titled dramedy "The Last Movie Star" released earlier this year, about a Hollywood legend looking back at his career and legacy, one critics and reporters were already calling a final swan song of sorts at the time. He was also announced to appear in Quentin Tarantino's upcoming film "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," about Los Angeles in the time of Charles Manson but, according to reports, was unable to shoot his scenes prior to today's tragic news. Another "what if" to add to the list.
But what he certainly leaves behind is a collection of all-time big-screen performances, an indelible figure of Hollywood celebrity and a photograph that forever changed how we looked at bear rugs. Be sure to toast him at Safe House or Snack Boys this weekend.
Here's what some of show business had to say as well:
Burt Reynolds was one of my heroes. He was a trailblazer. He showed the way to transition from being an athlete to being the highest paid actor, and he always inspired me. He also had a great sense of humor - check out his Tonight Show clips. My thoughts are with his family. — Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) September 6, 2018
I did 2 films with Burt Reynolds. As an artist he lived in a state of tension between needing to be taken seriously while seeing the total silliness in it all. Hilarious, self-mocking & streetwise, his sly, smiling style felt like a seduction. By any measure an American original. pic.twitter.com/0AIDxZuXW8 — Peter MacNicol (@PeterMacNicol1) September 6, 2018
As THE movie star of my childhood, the Bandit stole our hearts for decades. I always loved how Burt Reynolds worked with his friends as often as he could and then showcased the fun of movie-making in the end credits of his flicks. He was true American icon. Hate to see him go... https://t.co/jaMZjJA4e8 — KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) September 6, 2018
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.