Actor Burt Reynolds, who died Thursday (Sept. 6) at the age of 82 in a hospital in Jupiter, Fla., had a glittery country music presence during the 1970s and early ‘80s.
He dated Tammy Wynette briefly during the 1970s and co-starred with Dolly Parton in the 1982 musical comedy film hit, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
One of Reynolds’ early connections with country music came incidentally in 1972 via the movie Deliverance. A fellow star in that violent story of survival was Ronny Cox, who, in an early scene in the movie, plays frenetic guitar to a young blind boy’s equally rapid-fire banjo.
The bluegrass song they played, titled “Dueling Banjos” (originally “Feudin’ Banjos”), soared to No. 3 or the pop and No. 5 on the country charts in 1973 for the duo Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell. That same year, Reynolds released his first and only record album, Ask Me What I Am, co-produced by songwriter and singer Bobby Goldsboro and Nashville publisher and producer Buddy Killen. None of its songs charted, but in 1980 Reynolds did make the country rankings — barely and briefly — with “Let’s Do Something Cheap and Superficial.” It topped out at No. 51.
In 1975, Reynolds starred in the picaresque film, W. W. and the Dixie Dance Kings. It abounded with country artists, including Jerry Reed, Don Williams, Mel Tillis and Roni Stoneman. Reed became a close friend of Reynolds and his co-star in all three of his Smokey and the Bandit series. The first Smokey and the Bandit, released in 1977, yielded what would become one of Reed’s most–requested songs, the rollicking “East Bound and Down.” Also appearing in all three Smokey films was songwriter Paul Williams, who now serves as president of ASCAP, the prominent performance rights organization.
Reynolds also tapped Reed for the 1976 movie, Gator. Other country acts who appeared in Reynolds’ movies included Mel Tillis, Brenda Lee, the Statler Brothers and the country-oriented comic actors Jim Nabors and George Lindsey.
Ubiquitous in both films and television, Reynolds was one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars for years. He was nominated for a best supporting actor Academy Award for the 1997 film, Boogie Nights.