The name Hal Needham was mostly unknown to film audiences until the late ’70s. The story was quite different when it came to the insides of cinematic productions. While training as a stunts specialist under John Wayne’s stunt double Chuck Robertson, he went on to become one of the most sought-after in his field in the ’60s.
After forming a stunt enterprise, he began to write the screenplay for what would end up being Smokey and the Bandit. His good friend Burt Reynolds read the screenplay and agreed to play one of the leads after which studios took Needham seriously and financed what would go on to become a classic in its own right.
Released in 1977, Smokey and the Bandit captured the hearts of audiences with its fast cars, high-speed chases, and hilarious performances. The film follows Bo “The Bandit” Darville, a race car driver (Reynolds) who is hired to smuggle 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta. The bandit uses his Pontiac Trans Am to distract law enforcement along the way as his brother-in-law, Cledus “The Snowman” Snow drives the truck carrying the beer. Through their journey, they are chased by Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) and pick up a runaway bride (Sally Field)
Smokey and the Bandit went on to become a sleeper hit, only surpassed by Star Wars at the box office at the end of the year. The talented cast, led by Burt Reynolds, left a lasting impression on viewers, which led to two sequels released in 1980 and 1983, respectively. Today the film is a cult classic that brought some of their already recognized cast even more fame and established Reynolds as the world’s number-one box office star in the late ’70s. So what became of the actors who made up such an iconic moment in film?
Burt Reynolds played the charming and quick-witted Bandit, catapulting him to superstardom. After Smokey and the Bandit Reynolds continued to enjoy success in both film and television. He appeared in movies like The Cannonball Run, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Boogie Nights, with the latter earning him the only Academy Award nomination of his illustrious career. Sadly, Reynolds passed away in 2018 due to a heart attack, leaving behind one of the most enduring and remarkable legacies in film.
Sally Field portrayed Carrie, a runaway bride and love interest of the Bandit. Following the film’s success, Field established herself as a leading lady in Hollywood. She won Academy Awards for her performances in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. Field continued to shine on the big screen, starring in films like Steel Magnolias and Forrest Gump. She made her Broadway debut in 2002 and returned to theater in 2017, earning a Tony Award nomination. In recent years, she has ventured into television, notably in the series Brothers & Sisters and Maniac.
Jackie Gleason’s portrayal of the bumbling and determined Sheriff Buford T. Justice was a comedic highlight of the film. This legendary comedian and actor had already achieved great success before Smokey and the Bandit, his credits include his own comedy show and a series of films of which his 1961 role as Minnesota Fats in The Hustler along with Paul Newman is one of his most beloved. Following his success with the Smokey and the Bandit film series, he appeared in a couple more movies, with his last role being critically acclaimed opposite to Tom Hanks in Nothing in Common. A year after this film, he passed away due to colon cancer complications which he kept private. He left behind a lasting legacy of comedic greatness.
Jerry Reed played Cledus Snow, Bandit’s loyal truck-driving partner. Reed, a multi-talented musician and actor, continued to excel in both fields after the film’s release. He released several successful country albums and won two Grammy Awards for his hit songs. Reed also appeared in movies like The Waterboy and Bat*21. He passed away in 2008, but he remains a great performer, whose work is central to the history of country music. Reed was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2017.
Mike Henry portrayed Junior Justice, the dimwitted son of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. After Smokey and the Bandit, Henry’s acting career transitioned towards voice-over work. He became well-known as the voice of Tarzan in various animated projects. Additionally, Henry wrote screenplays for films like The Longest Yard and Cannonball Run II, where he reunited with Needham and Reynolds. He retired from the film industry after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1988. He passed away in 2021 due to complications from his condition.
Pat McCormick played Big Enos Burdette, one half of the wealthy duo who hires the Bandit for the smuggling of the beers. McCormick was a talented comedian and comedy writer, known for his tall stature and distinctive voice. His writing credits include working for legends like Phyllis Diller and Johnny Carson. Following his performances in the Smokey films, he made occasional television appearances and continued to contribute his comedic talents to various projects. McCormick retired from acting after being partially paralyzed by a stroke in 1988. From 1996 to the end of his life, he lived at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California where he passed away in 2005.
Today, most people will associate the name Paul Williams with his stellar appearance in Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, lending his vocals to the touching disco ballad Touch. Before that, Williams built an illustrious career in show business. In the Smokey films, he portrayed Little Enos Burdette, the other half of the wealthy duo who sponsors the Bandit. Besides acting, Williams is a renowned singer-songwriter who has penned numerous hit songs. Through the height of his fame, he struggled with alcohol addiction which he overcame and became sober ever since 1990. He continues to work with addiction programs, has made small appearances in film and TV, and ventured into voice acting.