You know you’re getting old when the icons of your youth start to pass way.

And so it is with Burt Reynolds, one of the biggest movie stars of the 1970s and as iconic a cinematic figure as Hollywood has ever produced.

Burt was, like me, a Southerner. And he possessed a sense of humor and charm that was infectious to Americans nationwide. Make no mistake – the man could act. But his most popular films were a series of “Southern Outlaw” action comedies in which it was clear that he – and the friends he cast alongside himself in the film – were having the time of their lives making it. There was a twinkle in his eye that let moviegoers know they were in on the joke, too. And America loved him for it.

Even today, "Smokey and the Bandit" is glorious to behold: An irresistible snapshot of American working- and middle-class men and women at their zenith.   -

Even today, "Smokey and the Bandit" is glorious to behold: An irresistible snapshot of American working- and middle-class men and women at their zenith. 

Burt was at his peak at a time when the American working man and woman was on center stage. Nowhere was this more evident than in trucking, which became celebrated as the quintessential American blue collar job, with the freedom of the open road and contempt for rules, regulations, and authority the defining attitude of the day.

Looking back over Burt’s body of work, it seems likely that “Smokey and the Bandit” will be remembered as his defining cinematic role (if it’s not already). In some ways this is surprising, given his remarkable work in “Deliverance,” “The Longest Yard” or “Boogie Nights”. “Smokey” was a comedy fleshed out with cool cars, a hip, game chick sidekick in Sally Fields, a roaring Kenworth with a rollicking country guitar-slinger behind the wheel and the great Jackie Gleason guzzling martinis off camera, chewing through the scenery and stealing every scene he was in – with Burt loving every second of it.

I’m no movie critic, but I could make a strong argument that “Smokey and the Bandit” is as essential as “Jaws,” “The Godfather,” Star Wars,” or “Saturday Night Fever” were to 1970's film. “Smokey” does more than any of those films to capture the mood and the spirit of the country at that time.

Even today, “Smokey and the Bandit” is glorious to behold: An irresistible gumbo of smoke-belching big rigs, badass Pontiac muscle cars, CB radios, bootleg Coors beer, rich, entitled jerks, a racist, redneck sheriff with anger-management issues – all topped off with a trio of Good Ol’ girls and boys just wanting to be left alone to make a little money and have a little harmless fun. It’s a magic moment in cinematic history that captures the Zenith of the American blue- and middle class before trickle-down economics, Yuppies, Wall Street traders, 9/11, endless wars and opioids came to dominate our lives.

And there was no one better to pull it off than Burt Reynolds. He was a joy to behold in his prime and I’m so pleased he got the recognition for his work and his films before he passed. The word “icon” gets tossed around far too much these days. But Burt Reynold was, without a doubt, an American icon. One who’s cinematic persona is forever firmly intertwined with that of the American trucker.

About the author
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

Executive Editor

Jack Roberts is known for reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

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