All these years later, you may have to remind yourself just how big Burt Reynolds was in the seventies and eighties.

He was voted the most popular star in the U.S. by the Quigley Poll five consecutive times between 1978 and 1982, the only actor to tie Bing Crosby’s record set in the forties. And he was in the top ten “Money Makers” list for ten years, from 1973-1984.

He thought of those heady years as a blur, once saying: “If I met you between ’73 and ’78, I’m sorry. I don’t remember three or four of those years.”

Years later, he’d regret taking the easy way out, rejecting plum roles he could and should have taken. It was, however, in keeping with his image, as a casual, fun-loving leading man who wouldn’t take himself — or the business — too seriously.

Among the films the turned down were the original “Star Wars” (1977), “Terms of Endearment” (1983), and “Die Hard” (1988).

Too often perhaps, he chose to play himself, a good ol boy with a winning smile and wicked sense of humor. His fans certainly didn’t mind, but over the years, he did make some dogs. As he put it: “My films were the kind they only show in prisons and in airplanes, because nobody can leave.”

Growing up in Florida, the son of a sheriff, he was a gifted athlete who might have played pro football if a serious car accident hadn’t sidelined him. He fell into acting when a high school teacher heard him read Shakespeare, and sensed real talent.

A highly physical performer, he insisted on doing a lot of his own stunts, and his downward slide began with a serious accident on the set of “City Heat” (1984), after which he became addicted to pain medication.

The sad part is that Reynolds didn’t give himself enough credit: he really could act, and a movie called “Deliverance” proves it. This searing, unforgettable film made him a star.

The happy part is he wasn’t the type to wallow in self-pity, and the Burt Reynolds he chose to show the world was a whole lot of fun.

I viewed him not just as an actor but also a gifted comic entertainer, much like Dean Martin. There’s a good reason why he was the first non-comedian ever asked to guest host “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”:  he was utterly charming and genuinely funny.

Though he hated doing the picture, he showed he could still deliver the goods in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” (1997), which brought him his first and only Oscar nod at 60.

Even as ill health dogged him in later years, Reynolds refused to retire. With his trademark wit, he quipped: “I'm going to retire hopefully like Cary Grant did. I'll be on stage telling a story, everyone's going to applaud and laugh and then I'll drop like a rock.”

Working basically right up to the end, Burt Reynolds got his wish…we just wish he hadn’t gone so soon.

Below are 14 pictures that pay tribute to the life and legacy of Burt Reynolds, movie star.

Big man on campus.

A smile that stars are made of.

Burt, early in his career. That may even be his own hair.

As Lewis in Deliverance (1972), the role he should always be remembered for.

A hunting trip gone very wrong. Help!

Was this one of those scripts he regretted turning down? We'll never know.

In The Longest Yard”  (1974), a movie close to his own heart. Touchdown!

If an injury prevents you from playing ball in real life, hey, you can always do it in the movies.

Give the man a cigar.

Lothario in leather.

With Sally Field, the gal that got away.

In his most profitable picture, “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977), Burt has every reason to smile.

Late career triumph: surrounded by his young cast from Boogie Nights” (1997).

Burt, we miss you already.

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