Burt Reynolds, the handsome film and television star known for his acclaimed performances in "Deliverance" and "Boogie Nights," commercial hits such as "Smokey and the Bandit" and for an active off-screen love life which included relationships with Loni Anderson and Sally Field, has died at age 82.
In a statement, his niece, Nancy Lee Hess, called his death Thursday "totally unexpected," although she acknowledged he had health issues.
"He was tough. Anyone who breaks their tail bone on a river and finishes the movie is tough. And that's who he was."
Hess noted her uncle's kindness and generosity, and thanked "all of his amazing fans who have always supported and cheered him on, through all of the hills and valleys of his life and career."
The mustached, smirking Reynolds inspired a wide range of responses over his long, erratic career: critical acclaim and critical scorn, popular success and box office bombs. Reynolds made scores of movies, ranging from lightweight fare such as the hits "The Cannonball Run" and "Smokey and the Bandit" to more serious films like "The Longest Yard" and "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing."
He received some of the film world's highest and lowest honors. He was nominated for an Oscar for "Boogie Nights," the Paul Thomas Anderson film about the pornography industry; won an Emmy for the TV series "Evening Shade," and was praised for his starring role in "Deliverance."
But he also was a frequent nominee for the Razzie, the tongue-in-cheek award for Hollywood's worst performance, and his personal life provided ongoing drama, particularly after an acrimonious divorce from Anderson in 1995. He had a troubled marriage to Judy Carne, a romance with Dinah Shore and a relationship with Field damaged by his acknowledged jealousy of her success.
Through it all he presented a genial persona, often the first to make fun of his own conflicted image.
"My career is not like a regular chart, mine looks like a heart attack," he told The Associated Press in 2001. "I've done over 100 films, and I'm the only actor who has been canned by all three networks. I epitomize longevity."
Born in Lansing, Michigan and raised in Florida, he was an all-Southern Conference running back at Florida State University in the 1950s. Reynolds appeared headed to the NFL until a knee injury and an automobile accident ended his chances. He dropped out of college and drifted to New York, where he worked as a dockhand, dance-hall bouncer, bodyguard and dish washer before returning to Florida in 1957 and enrolling in acting classes.
In the 1960s he made dozens of guest-star appearances on such TV shows as "Bonanza," ''The Twilight Zone" and "Perry Mason." His first film role came in 1961's "Angel Baby," and he followed it with numerous other mediocre movies, the kind, he liked to joke, that were shown in airplanes and prisons.
He did become famous enough to make frequent appearances on "The Tonight Show," leading to his most cherished film role and to his greatest folly.
In the early 1970s, director John Boorman was impressed by how confidently Reynolds handled himself when subbing for Carson as host of "The Tonight Show." Boorman thought he might be right for a film adaptation of James Dickey's novel "Deliverance."
Reynolds starred as Lewis Medlock, the intrepid leader of an ill-fated whitewater canoe trip. When he and three other Atlanta businessmen are ambushed by violent backwoodsmen, Reynolds must guide the group to safety.
"Deliverance" was an Oscar nominee for best picture and no film made him prouder. In his 2015 memoir "But Enough About Me," he wrote that "Deliverance" would be his choice could he put one of his movies in a time capsule.
"It proved I could act," he wrote.
But soon after filming was completed, he made a decision he never stopped regretting. While appearing on "The Tonight Show" with Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, he agreed to her invitation, offered during a commercial break, to be the first male centerfold for her magazine.
"I was flattered and intrigued," Reynolds wrote in his memoir. The April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan quickly sold more than 1 million copies, but turned his life into a "carnival." The centerfold would appear on T-shirts, panties and other merchandise and Reynolds began receiving obscene fan mail. Reynolds' performance in "Deliverance" was snubbed by the movie academy.
He did remain an A-list movie star, starring in such films as "Shamus," ''The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and three popular "Smokey and the Bandit" comedies, with co-stars including Field and Jackie Gleason.
In the 1980s, his career was nearly destroyed when false rumors surfaced that he was infected with the AIDS virus, in the height of hysteria over the disease. He had injured his jaw making the 1984 comedy "City Heat" with Clint Eastwood. Barely able to eat, he lost 50 pounds and suddenly looked emaciated.
"For two years I couldn't get a job," he told the AP in 1990. "I had to take five physicals to get a job. I had to take the pictures that were offered to me. I did action pictures because I was trying to prove that I was well."
He eventually regained his health, and in 1988 he married Anderson.
But the couple divorced in 1995, and their breakup was an embarrassing public spectacle, with the pair exchanging insults in print interviews and on television shows. Reynolds finally paid her a $2 million settlement and a vacation home to settle the divorce.
He rebounded once again, this time with the role of porn movie impresario Jack Horner in "Boogie Nights," which brought him some of his best reviews.
He won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor and received an Oscar nomination. Convinced he would win, he was devastated when the Oscar went to Robin Williams for "Good Willi Hunting."
"I once said that I'd rather have a Heisman Trophy than an Oscar," he wrote in his memoir. "I lied."
Prague, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — India's president says there's a significant potential for cooperation in the defense industry between his country and the Czech Republic.
Speaking in Prague Friday after meeting his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind called on Czech defense firms to come to India to create joint venture companies.
Kovind says he believes the economic ties between the two countries will be bolstered further by a planned trip next year of Czech government ministers to India.
Kovind also expressed his appreciation to Zeman for his backing of the idea that India deserves to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
Zeman says both are worried by the situation in Pakistan, India's neighbor and rival.
Kovind also visited Cyprus and Bulgaria as part of a 3-nation European tour.
Presevo, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — The European Union's top diplomat says she's concluded separate talks with the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo but that there has been no breakthrough in normalizing their strained relations.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Friday after meetings with Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci that she held several rounds of talks but that "difficulties remain."
She says she hopes both leaders will continue discussions and "reach in the coming months a legally binding agreement on comprehensive normalization of relations, in line with international law."
Mogherini said she would chair further high-level talks in Brussels between the sides later this month.
Beijing, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in a sign of strengthening ties between the two Asian giants.
The summit will take place during Xi's working visit to Russia's far-eastern port city of Vladivostok on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry said Friday. It will be the first time a Chinese head of state has attended the Russian-hosted Eastern Economic Forum, a gathering Moscow hopes will encourage investment in its thinly populated far-east.
Xi's visit is a sign of healthy ties between China and Russia that have been cemented by joint military exercises and coordination on foreign policy issues from Syria to North Korea. China this month is sending 3,200 troops and about 900 weapons units to take part in the biggest Russian military exercises since the Cold War.
The visit also comes as China is reaching out to trade partners amid a tariff war with the United States. Russia has in recent years surpassed Saudi Arabia as China's largest source of crude oil and Beijing also imports Russian gas and military equipment.
Russia and China have responded to the U.S. national security strategy describing them as America's top adversaries by vowing to further expand their economic, political and military cooperation. They have also sought to strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping they created and which holds occasional defense exercises.
The relationship is driven in part by the warm ties between Putin and Xi, seen as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. The two have met 25 times — five times last year alone, according to Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov. Putin's visit begins on Friday.
Redwood City, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — A career criminal who authorities believe is the Gypsy Hill Killer faces trial Friday in Northern California for the murders of two young women four decades ago.
Law enforcement officials believe Rodney Halbower, 69, is the man who raped and killed six young women during a five-month period in 1976.
The serial killer was given his nickname when one of the bodies was found in the Gypsy Hills section of Pacifica, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
Opening statements start Friday in Redwood City, which is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
The killings of six young women in Northern California and Reno, Nevada, remained a mystery until 2014.
That's when DNA taken from cigarette butts saved from the scene of one of the killings in Reno led investigators to Halbower's prison cell in Oregon.
The San Mateo County district attorney's office charged Halbower with two of the six murders that occurred there, citing the cases' DNA evidence.
San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe called Halbower "a sociopathic serial killer" and said he is seeking to have Halbower sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Halbower's DNA was taken when he entered the Oregon prison in 1989 where he was serving 90 years for rape and attempted murder. Halbower's DNA was stored in a national database and matched the sample Reno cold case detectives scraped from the cigarette butt when they took another look at the Reno murder case in 2014.
A woman who confessed to murder spent 30 years in prison for the crime, but evidence mounted that she was mentally unfit and probably innocent.
It's likely Halbower would never have been linked to the five California murders and the killing of a University of Nevada nursing student in Reno had he not escaped from a Nevada prison in December 1986. He stole a car and made his way to Oregon, where — within days of his escape — he was arrested for rape and attempted murder.
An Oregon jury convicted Halbower and sentenced him to 15 years in prison in that state. First, he was returned to Nevada to finish that state's prison term.
When Nevada paroled him in 2013, he was sent back to Oregon, where prison officials took a DNA sample and submitted it to the national database investigators use to revive stalled investigations, which linked him to the Gypsy Hill murders.
Halbower was first transferred to the San Mateo County Jail in 2014 and his trial has been delayed several times. He has fired several of his public defenders and demanded to represent himself. The case was also delayed until a jury last year determined he was competent to stand trial. Judges have refused to let him serve as his own attorney. His current public defender, John Halley, didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Court records show Halbower has spent the last 53 years in prison or on the lam after escaping.
A 1987 psychiatric report for an Oregon court concluded that Halbower was an intelligent man who suffered from "a severe personality disorder, with a propensity toward criminal behavior."
Halbower earned a high school diploma in prison, but he has had no other education, court records show. He does not appear to possess job skills, although he took drafting classes and dabbled with art behind bars in Michigan, Nevada and Oregon.
Still, that psychiatric report said Halbower "feels that he is pretty accomplished, that he should be able to teach, that he has a great many qualifications" and yearned to be a famous artist or a rock-and-roll star. The report concluded that Halbower's "life is replete with poor impulse control, narcissism and a certain grandiosity."