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The Bandit is 10-7, Good Buddy

From a bench riding, take a knee former NFL quarterback scoring a huge advertising deal with a major athletic apparel company; to a yet-to-be-named White House staffer that authored an anonymous tell-all letter to the New York Times; to a major storm brewing off the southeastern U.S. coast….last week was a busy one news wise.

But none of those storylines sparked my interest to write about this week. Rather, I’m choosing to pay honor to one of my all-time heroes.

Burton Leon Reynolds Jr. was born on a cold February day in Michigan in 1936. Later, his family moved south, first to Missouri after his dad was drafted into the U.S. Army, and then to Riviera Beach, Florida where his father was hired as Police Chief after his military hitch ended.

The man we all grew to love and often watched in TV and movie roles was known by Burt Reynolds. His rough-and-tumble nature (he would at times perform his own stunts on the big and small screen) coupled with a wide grin and a unique laugh warmed the hearts of fans across all races, religions and genders.

I knew of his past athletic prowess….a First Team All State performer at fullback at Palm Beach High School and then a star-in-the-making halfback at Florida State University. His dream of playing pro football took an unplanned detour in the first game of his sophomore season at FSU where he was slowed by a knee injury. Then, later the same season, he was hurt in a car crash, one where tore up his other knee as well as losing his spleen.

While that bit of bad luck spoiled what may have been a life as a professional athlete, it opened a door that later led Reynolds to become a star in a completely different way.

During my childhood, Gunsmoke was the big show on TV. It was the most widely watched series on the tube at that time. We didn’t miss a single show in our house and the characters became part of our lives. In 1962, one of those stars – Dennis Weaver (who played the role of Chester) – wanted to leave the show. That prompted the producers to cast another character – a blacksmith – and Reynolds beat out 300 other hopefuls to land the role. My new hero was born.

That role as Quint Asper led Reynolds to gain popularity. He had the lead role in several TV series: Hawk, Navajo Joe, and Dan August.

Star status at a major level was waiting in the wings for Reynolds. After several low budget films, he, in my opinion, made the move as a star in the film 100 Rifles. Of course my opinion may be a bit biased there because Rachel Welch was the co-star of that 1969 movie and as a 16-year-old at that time, it seemed that all young boys like me had a crush on her.

His big break came in 1972 with the award winning film Deliverance. Five years later he became a household name with the release of the original Smokey and the Bandit.

Along the way came other films starring Reynolds that I came to love….The Longest Yard (1974) and a remake of the same film in 2005 with Reynolds, Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock in the lead roles.

Reynolds (aka the Bandit) went “10-7” (out of service) on Thursday of last week, dying in Jupiter, Florida after years of heart problems. He was 82.

Thanks, Bert, for all the fun, laughs, and even for your serious side on TV and in the movies. May your legendary Trans Am still have the speed to outrun Sheriff Buford T. Justice up in heaven. And while you’re there, give Sheriff Matt Dillon, Festus, Chester, Doc, and Miss Kitty my best.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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