Burt Reynolds Became A Star At Age 36

Terry DisneyGetty Images

Burt Reynolds may have become one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men in the 1970s and ’80s, but his life would have probably had a much different path if it wasn’t for his bum knee.

As Biography notes, Reynolds started his career playing football for Florida State University. He had a promising future ahead of him, CBS Sports reports, clocking close to 140 yards, two touchdowns, and 16 carries in his first season with the Seminoles as a halfback.

But his football aspirations were cut short when he sustained two knee injuries — one from football and one from a car accident — in his second season. His days on the field were over, but he was about to enter an arena that would bring him fame and fortune.

Reynolds’ First Acting Gigs

Reynold’s journey toward acting did not automatically start after he said goodbye to his football career. Before he stepped onto a stage he worked as a bodyguard, dishwasher, dockhand, and dancehall bouncer, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports. He eventually landed in an acting class at Palm Beach Junior College in Florida.

Reynolds went on to develop his acting chops at The Hyde Park Playhouse where he was picked out of obscurity by a talent agent.

Though he was best known for his movie roles, Reynolds got his start in television. Some of his earliest TV gigs included a series regular spot on Riverboat, a Western series that centered around the crew of a 100-foot boat that traversed the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Western Clippings reports that he was brought into the cast because the studio producing the series wanted him there.

“This is a new actor we just hired. Please use him,” then Universal studio head Lou Wasserman reportedly said. A producer on the show said that they struggled to figure out what to with him, as he was playing opposite a much bigger star at the time, Darren McGavin.

Deliverance: The Movie That Changed His Career

Reynolds would finally get his big break in 1972 after he was cast as the lead in the movie Deliverance.

He played Lewis Medlock, one of four city dwellers who venture down a river in Georgia for a wilderness adventure only to find that the residents don’t really like outsiders that much. The movie received critical acclaim and allowed Reynolds to stake his claim as a leading man in Hollywood.

He was 36-years-old.

Even though he would go on to star in other iconic movies like Boogie Nights, he later revealed that there was one line from Deliverance that followed him throughout his career.

“I’ll be driving sometimes in the car, and some guy will pull up beside me and say, ‘You got a mighty pretty mouth,'” he said in an interview with Conan O’Brien in March of this year.

Burt Reynolds died on Thursday at the age of 82.

With his death, he leaves behind a rich legacy of performances and the deeper lesson that your first path in life may not be the one that leads to your destiny.