A Stunt Gone Wrong Halted Burt Reynolds’ Acting Career for 2 Years: ‘I Ruined the Movie’

The late actor Burt Reynolds boogied his way into pop culture stardom, establishing himself as a celebrity icon and sex symbol throughout the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Best known for classic films like 1973’s White Lightning and 1997’s Boogie Nights, Reynolds’ storied career won him numerous awards and nominations, including Emmys, Golden Globes and Academy Awards. But his success wasn’t always bulletproof.

There was a time that Reynolds was forced to step away from acting, and it was all due to a stunt that went wrong on set.

Before he was a movie star, Reynolds got started in television

Burt Reynolds
Burt Reynolds | Martin Mills/Getty Images

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After dabbling in theatrical acting, Reynolds’ career got a boost when he landed a TV contract that earned him roles on popular Western TV shows like Gunsmoke and Riverboat.

“He became a familiar face to TV audiences,” explains Biography. “Both handsome and charming, Reynolds increased his popularity in the early 1970s by appearing on numerous talk shows, including Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, on which he would become a frequent guest.”

Things only took off from there, and soon Reynolds was on his way from the TV screen to the silver screen. “It was his tough-guy performance as macho Lewis Medlock in the John Boorman backwoods nightmare Deliverance (1972) that really stamped him as a bona-fide star,” reports IMDb.

The site notes that this cemented Reynolds’ standing as a sex symbol and a rugged icon of masculinity.

Many of Reynolds’ movies required demanding stunts, and this turned out to be Reynolds’ downfall.

Reynolds starred alongside Clint Eastwood in ‘City Heat’

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In 1984, the film City Heat brought Reynolds together with another Hollywood icon: Clint Eastwood. The buddy-crime drama follows a private investigator (Reynolds) and a police officer (Eastwood) who team up to solve a mob-related crime despite the differences between the two men.

“Little did Reynolds know, however, that City Heat would have a hefty impact on his career, and his star power,” reports Den of Geek.

In the movie, there’s a scene where Reynolds’ character is involved in a fight. During combat, Reynolds’ assailant hits him in the head with a chair. And that’s where things went awry: As Reynolds’ rehearsed, the stunt person was supposed to hit him with a special stunt chair that was made to be fragile so it wouldn’t hurt the actor.

But there was an unfortunate mixup. The stunt person grabbed a metal chair by accident, not the stunt chair, and took a swing at Reynolds’ head.

Den of Geek reports that Reynolds described having ringing ears and a “blinding headache.”

“Every time I tried to speak my face clicked,” Reynolds reminisced. “My bite was so lopsided I couldn’t chew. I could only drink liquids, and I began losing weight.”

The accident started a string of health problems for Reynolds

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To finish filming, Reynolds took painkillers and pushed through, but Den of Geek reports that he felt he let down the cast. “I ruined the movie,” he’s quoted as saying.

Reynolds needed extensive recovery from the accident and took a break from acting for two years. This absence from Hollywood, paired with his weight loss, triggered rumors that Reynolds had AIDS.

After years of struggling with chronic pain, Reynolds was finally diagnosed with a joint condition in his jaw. Reynolds explained that the joint problem affected his sensory perception and balance. “It’s like being seasick all the time,” said Reynolds. The solution involved extensive reconstructive jaw surgery, but when it was all said and done, Reynolds was able to return to acting.

Unfortunately, his health problems weren’t over. According to ABC, Reynolds had a “series of health problems” or decades, including time in rehab in 2009. Reynolds had become addicted to painkillers that he was prescribed after a recent back surgery. “The following year, Reynolds underwent quintuple bypass surgery,” notes ABC.

Reynolds passed away on September 6, 2018.