“It is with a broken heart that I said goodbye to my uncle today,” his niece Nancy Lee Hess tells Us in a statement. “My uncle was not just a movie icon; he was a generous, passionate and sensitive man, who was dedicated to his family, friends, fans and acting students.”
The statement continues, “He has had health issues, however, this was totally unexpected. He was tough. Anyone who breaks their tail bone on a river and finishes the movie is tough. And that’s who he was. My uncle was looking forward to working with Quentin Tarantino [on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood] and the amazing cast that was assembled.”
“So many people have already contacted me, to tell me how they benefitted professionally and personally from my uncle’s kindness,” Hess says. “I want to thank 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. My family and I appreciate the outpouring of love for my uncle, and I ask that everyone please respect our family’s privacy at this very difficult time.”
A source told Us that Reynolds went into cardiac arrest at a hospital in Florida on Thursday morning. A caregiver and a member of his family were by his side when he passed away.
The Michigan native rose to fame when he starred in the TV drama Gunsmoke in the early 1960s. His breakout movie role came with the 1972 thriller Deliverance. The same year, he famously posed nude on a bearskin rug for a centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine.
“It’s been called one of the greatest publicity stunts of all time, but it was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made,” he recalled of his risqué photo shoot in his 2015 memoir, But Enough About Me. “I’m convinced it cost Deliverance the recognition it deserved.”
Reynolds continued to land leading roles throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s in films including White Lightning (1973), Lucky Lady (1975), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), The Cannonball Run (1981) and Malone (1987). He earned an Oscar nomination for his role as Jack Horner in the 1997 drama Boogie Nights.
The sex symbol was married to Judy Carne from 1963 to 1965, and Loni Anderson from 1988 to 1993. He also dated his Smokey and the Bandit costar Sally Field from 1977 to 1982.
In a statement to Us on Thursday afternoon, Field, 71, said, “There are times in your life that are so indelible, they never fade away. They stay alive, even 40 years later. My years with Burt never leave my mind. He will be in my history and my heart, for as long as I live. Rest, Buddy.”
Reynolds is survived by his 30-year-old son, Quinton.