Burt Reynolds was one of the most accomplished Hollywood actors of his generation by the time he passed away of a heart attack Thursday at the age of 82, but there was one role in particular that stuck with him his whole life.
During a March appearance on Conan O'Brien's TBS talk show, Reynolds opened up about filming Deliverance, a 1972 thriller starring him as Lewis Medlock on a canoe trip through the Georgia wilderness that turned dangerous for him and his friends.
Recounting the casting of the villains of the movie, Reynolds remembered calling upon an old friend from that area, who notably was illiterate, to play the role of Cowboy.
"The fact that those two guys, Cowboy and the other gentleman, who was a Hollywood actor, but Cowboy was right from there," he said. "I said, 'Cowboy, whatever you wanna say, just say it and they'll cut it out. So he just started ad libbing up a storm."
It was this ad libbing that produced an iconic line that followed Reynolds his whole life, he added.
"I'll be driving sometimes in the car, and some guy will pull up beside me and say, 'You got a mighty pretty mouth,'" Reynolds said.
It was the scene depicting a visceral male rape that Reynolds was most shocked didn't end his career, he revealed. "I thought it was gonna be pretty close [to ending his career]," he told O'Brien. "'Cause I hadn't done anything like that. Nobody had!
That daring move, plus the excellent performances, he lamented, should have earned Ned Beatty, who played Bobby Trippe, an Oscar.
Taking a risk like Deliverance clearly didn't end Reynolds' career, but helped him break out onto the Hollywood acting scene. He would go on to star in The Longest Yard in 1974, Smokey and the Bandit in 1977, Semi-Tough also in 1977, Hooper in 1978, Smokey and the Bandit II in 1980, The Cannonball Run in 1981 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1982.
He would eventually even be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Boogie Nights in 1997.
Photo credit: Warner Bros