Hal Needham passed away Friday from cancer, he was 82 years old. Best known for directing such films as Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run series. He was also a stuntman in his earlier days whilst breaking into Hollywood. Needham also worked as a second unit director, stunt co-ordinator, action director (directed action scenes) and his trademark: the automobile stunts (which he always managed to work into the films he directed). Needham was a stunt double for such notable actors as Richard Boone, Burt Reynolds, Clint Walker, Gary Lockwood and Peter Breck. He was awarded an Academy Award in 2012 for his work in Hollywood and wrote an autobiography about his life as a stuntman and filmmaker.
Born on March 6, 1931 in Memphis Tennessee, Hal Needham was born to the parents of sharecroppers. After dropping out of grade school and working as a laborer, he joined the army during the Korean War. A few years later, he worked in Hollywood as a stunt double and bit actor. Over the years Needham began to set up and direct stunt scenes. He broke over 56 bones in his body as a stuntman and easily made the transition to filmmaker. His first film was "Smokey and the Bandit" starring Burt Reynolds (an old friend from his days as his stunt double from Gunsmoke). The two would work on several more films (Gator, Smokey and the Bandit II, Stroker Ace and The Cannonball Run films).
One actor who would learn a lot from Needham was Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan. His film company Golden Harvest worked with him on a few productions. Chan worked on The Cannonball Run films and used a few things he learned from working with Needham and would later use in the future when he began to direct on his own (i.e. the outtake reel at the end of the movie, special shots of incredible stunts and the safety measures that Needham placed upon his set. Chan also created his own stunt team modeled after Needham's (Stunts Unlimited). During the eighties, Needham directed two films based upon mainstream fads BMX racing (Rad) and pro wrestling (Body Slam), both were mediocre box office draws and would be the last theatrical films he would direct.
Hal Needham revolutionized the way stunt work, action directing and stunt safety in Hollywood. He paid a keen eye to the way car chases and crashed were filmed and handled. He put the safety of his stuntmen ahead of anything else and improved their conditions. Needham's work behind and in front of the camera should not only be duly noted but give the credited he truly deserves and it will be missed.