By Joseph Martinez -
Hal Needham, a former military paratrooper who later became one of Hollywood's top stuntmen and a film director, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 82 after a short bout with cancer, according to Variety.
Hal Needham began working as a stuntman and continued for more than 30 films including 1957′s The Spirit of St. Louis, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Little Big Man (1970), and Blazing Saddles and Chinatown (both 1974)... boasting in his autobiography that he “broke 56 bones, my back twice, punctured a lung and knocked out a few teeth.” He was reputed to be the highest-paid stuntman in the movies.
After dazzling Hollywood for years as a top stunt performer and coordinator, Needham obtained his first directing gig in 1976 with Smokey and the Bandit after he approached his pal Burt Reynolds (he often doubled for Reynolds) with a yarn about a good ol’ boy and his trucker friend who must haul a load of beer across state lines. Reynolds liked the idea, and the stuntman found himself in the director’s chair. Smokey and the Bandit was a bonafide box-office hit, earning more than $126 million as the second-highest grossing movie of 1977. The action-comedy also spawned two sequels. He followed those up with Hooper (1978), starring Reynolds with Sally Field (a story of a great Hollywood stuntman) and The Cannonball Run (1981) - among others.
Needham received an honorary Academy Award in 2012 for extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement. (photo A.M.P.A.S/The Hollywood Archive)