Smokey And The Bandit Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

On May 27, 1977, "Smokey and the Bandit" premiered in theaters. The rest, as they say, is history.

The first film from stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham, it was a car chase comedy starring Burt Reynolds — then Hollywood's number one box office draw — as Bo "Bandit" Darville, a bootlegger transporting 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta. With the help of his partner Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed) and runaway bride Carrie (Sally Field), Bo evades rascally Texas sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), aka "Smokey," to get that beer to Big Enos Burdette's (Pat McCormick) celebration.

The film was a seismic hit that joined "Star Wars," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and "Saturday Night Fever" as one of the year's highest grossers. Reed's theme song, "East Bound and Down," nearly became a chart-topper, and the film earned an Oscar nomination for its film editing.

Two sequels followed, 1980's "Smokey and the Bandit II" and 1983's "Smokey and the Bandit Part 3." Although the second film was a modest hit, the third one — which had no involvement from Field, Needham, and only a brief cameo from Reynolds — was a critical and financial failure.

Unfortunately, several actors who made those films so special are no longer with us. Thankfully, we have the work to remember them by. Although some of these deaths made national headlines, others may have sadly slipped under the radar. So let's raise a can of Coors to those "Smokey and the Bandit" actors you may not know passed away.

John Anderson

John Anderson was one of those "Hey, it's that guy" guys, a prolific character actor you'd recognize without exactly knowing who he was. Anderson had numerous roles in film and television throughout his long career, including a bit part in "Smokey and the Bandit II."

Born on October 20, 1922, Anderson got his start on Broadway with roles in such shows as "Paint Your Wagon" before moving into film and television. He's perhaps best remembered for playing "California Charlie," the used car salesman who sells Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) a new vehicle in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." His lanky figure made him a favorite of TV westerns like "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza," and "The Rifleman," but he also made appearances on "M*A*S*H," "The Twilight Zone," and "Perry Mason," to name but a few.

On the big screen, Anderson had roles in such films as "Ride the High Country," "The Satan Bug," and "Eight Men Out." Fans of the "Smokey and the Bandit" franchise will remember his appearance as the outgoing Texas governor in the series' second installment. Big Enos (Pat McCormick) tries to win his endorsement in his own bid for governor by delivering an elephant to the Republican National Convention in Dallas, with the help of the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and the Snowman (Jerry Reed).

Anderson remained a fixture on television until his death from a heart attack on August 7, 1992, at age 69. Among his final roles were appearances on "Dallas," "MacGyver," and "Murder She Wrote." His final onscreen role was on an episode of "Quantum Leap," which aired just eight months before his death.

Dom DeLuise

If there was one thing you could count on, it was Dom DeLuise popping up in a Burt Reynolds movie. The real life friends appeared in multiple films together, including the "Cannonball Run" series and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." So it's little wonder DeLuise took on a supporting role in the sequel to Reynold's highly successful "Smokey and the Bandit."

Born on August 1, 1933, DeLuise got his start on the stage before moving to the screen. He found his greatest success on television, becoming a frequent talk show and variety series guest, most notably on "The Dean Martin Show." He was eventually given his own series, the short-lived "The Dom DeLuise Show." His flamboyant comedic stylings made him a favorite of Mel Brooks, who cast him in six films: "The Twelve Chairs," "Blazing Saddles," "Silent Movie," "History of the World: Part I," "Spaceballs," and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights."

He's perhaps best remembered for his collaborations with Reynolds, an off-screen pal who he worked with several times. On "Smokey and the Bandit II," he plays Dr. Frederico "Doc" Carlucci, an Italian gynecologist helping Bo and Cledus transport a pregnant elephant from Texas to Florida. 

DeLuise found a new generation of fans thanks to his voiceover work for animation, most notably with director Don Bluth. He leant his distinctive vocals to Bluth's "The Secret of NIMH," "An American Tail," "All Dogs Go to Heaven," and "A Troll in Central Park." On May 4, 2009, DeLuise died of kidney failure at the age of 75, following a long battle with cancer.

Jackie Gleason

It takes a lot of chutzpah to call yourself "The Great One," but in the case of Jackie Gleason, it was warranted. An entertainment pioneer of the stage and screen, Gleason's career got a second wind thanks to his starring role in the "Smokey and the Bandit" franchise, playing the titular Smokey. That success carried him through to the end of his life in 1987.

Born on February 26, 1916, Gleason worked his way up through comedy clubs before landing bit parts in movies. It was on the brand new medium of television that the comic found his greatest success, headlining "The Jackie Gleason Show" and the groundbreaking sitcom "The Honeymooners." Although it only ran for one season, the series about loudmouth bus driver Ralph Kramden (Gleason), his put-upon wife Alice (Audrey Meadows), and dimwitted neighbor Ed Norton (Art Carney) helped lay the groundwork for every situation comedy you've ever seen. Gleason earned five Emmy nominations for his various shows between 1953-1956, but sadly no wins.

Gleason found success on the big screen playing pool shark Minnesota Fats in "The Hustler." Yet despite earning an Oscar nomination for that dramatic supporting turn, he struggled with his subsequent film roles. It wasn't until "Smokey and the Bandit" rode into theaters that Gleason finally became a bankable movie star. He reprised his role as crotchety sheriff Buford T. Justice in both sequels. 

The final stretch of Gleason's career found him starring in critical flops ("The Toy," "Caddyshack II") and a pleasant surprise (his final film, "Nothing in Common," in which he starred opposite Tom Hanks). On June 24, 1987, Gleason died after a battle with cancer. He was 71 years old.

Mike Henry

Like many professional athletes, Mike Henry found a second life in Hollywood after retiring from sports. Although his career in acting was all-too-brief, he did manage to make an impression in several films, including all three "Smokey and the Bandit" installments as Sheriff Buford T. Justice's (Jackie Gleason) half-witted son Junior.

Born on August 15, 1936, Henry first rose to fame as an NFL linebacker, playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1958-61 and the Los Angeles Rams from 1962-64. He quickly transitioned into acting after hanging up his helmet, playing Tarzan the Ape Man in three movies released in the 1960s (1966's "Tarzan and the Valley of Gold," 1967's "Tarzan and the Great River," and 1968's "Tarzan and the Jungle Boy"). Roles in "The Longest Yard," "Rio Lobo," "Soylent Green," and more soon followed.

Sadly, Henry's acting career was cut short in 1988, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He succumbed to the disease and from complications from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) on January 8, 2021, at the age of 84.

David Huddleston

Before he was the Big Lebowski, David Huddleston was a reliable character actor who would steal the show whenever he popped up on screen. He had numerous film and television credits throughout his lengthy career, including a bit role in "Smokey and the Bandit II."

Born on September 17, 1930, Huddleston was a prolific performer on the big and small screen. He made many memorable television appearances throughout the decades, including on "Sanford and Son," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Columbo," "Gunsmoke," and "Bewitched." In movies, he co-starred in "Blazing Saddles," "Capricorn One," "Frantic," and "McQ."

In "Smokey and the Bandit II," he played John Conn, a slimy politician running against Big Enos (Pat McCormick) to become Governor of Texas. With the help of the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and the Snowman (Jerry Reed), Big Enos hopes to flip the race by transporting a giant elephant to the Republican National Convention in Dallas.

Although most of his credits were small roles, Huddleston's portly frame made him a perfect star for 1985's "Santa Claus: The Movie." He gained a whole new generation of fans playing the title role in "The Big Lebowski" and appearing in the "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" Christmas special. In 1990, he earned an Emmy nomination for a guest appearance on "The Wonder Years," playing Grandpa Arnold.

On August 2, 2016, Huddleston died of a heart attack and kidney disease at the age of 85.

Macon McCalman

Although he only appeared in the first film, no one can discount the contribution of Macon McCalman to the "Smokey and the Bandit" franchise. Although he got his start a little late, McCalman was a beloved presence on the big and small screen, becoming a reliable character actor for 25 years.

Born on December 30, 1932, McCalman helped create the Front Street Theatre in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, before moving to Broadway. He made his movie debut when he was 39 years old with a role in 1972's "Deliverance." Bit roles on TV's "Starsky and Hutch," "The Jeffersons," "Roots," "The Bob Newhart Show," and more soon followed.

He had a small yet memorable part as truck driver Mr. B in "Smokey and the Bandit." Fans of the film will remember him on the CB radio communicating with the Bandit, letting him know he was "gearjammin' this rollin' refinery" for him.

McCalman made further appearances in "The Falcon and the Snowman," "Fried Green Tomatoes," "Falling Down," and "Rosewood," his final film. He retired from acting after suffering a heart attack in 1997, and died in Memphis on November 29, 2005, after a series of strokes. He was 72 years old.

Pat McCormick

At 6 foot 7 inches and 250 pounds, Pat McCormick was certainly an imposing presence, and with a bushy mustache plastered across his face, a distinctive one as well. He made an impression in many film and television appearances, especially as Big Enos in the "Smokey and the Bandit" series.

Born on June 30, 1927, McCormick was a prominent comedy writer before getting into acting. He penned jokes for Phyllis Diller, Red Skelton, and Johnny Carson, and wrote episodes of "Get Smart" and "The Andy Griffith Show." He was a lead writer on "The Tonight Show" during the Carson days and the announcer/straight man on "The Don Rickles Show." During this time he earned three Emmy nominations for writing (for "The Tonight Show," "Bette Midler: Ol' Red Hair Is Back," and "The Danny Kaye Show").

He started acting more regularly in the 1970s, popping up in films like "The Shaggy D.A.," "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson," and "A Wedding." But it was as Big Enos Burdette, a wealthy Texas conman who enlists the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) to bootleg some Coors beer from Atlanta, that he became a household name. Big Enos and his son, Little Enos (Paul Williams), appeared in all three "Smokey and the Bandit" films.

McCormick retired from acting in 1998, when a stroke left him partially paralyzed. He died on July 29, 2005, at the age of 78.

Jerry Reed

Everyone remembers the characters Smokey and the Bandit, but let's not forget the Bandit's loyal sidekick Cledus Snow, aka the Snowman. As played by Jerry Reed, Cledus appeared in all three "Smokey and the Bandit" films, eventually becoming the Bandit in the third entry.

Born on March 20, 1937, Reed was actually best known as a country music singer. He had several hit songs throughout his lengthy career, winning three Grammy Awards out of nine nominations. Among his biggest hits were "Guitar Man," which was covered by Elvis Presley, "A Thing Called Love," "When You're Hot, You're Hot," and the theme song from "Smokey and the Bandit," "East Bound and Down" (which, of course, later served as the title for Danny McBride's HBO series).

Interestingly enough, Reed was originally cast as the Bandit before Reynolds became interested in the role. Reynolds being the country's biggest box office star at the time, Reed had little choice but to take the secondary role of Snowman, who drives the truckload of Coors beer while the Bandit speeds ahead in his black Pontiac Trans Am. 

Reed retired from acting with 1998's "The Waterboy," where he played the ornery Coach Red Beaulieu. In 2008, he died from emphysema at age 71. A heavy smoker throughout his life, Reed put out a PSA in the 1990s called "Jerry Reed — Another Puff," about his desire to quit the habit.

Burt Reynolds

On September 6, 2018, the Bandit himself finally rode off into the sunset. Although his career experienced many ups and downs, Burt Reynolds remained a star for over 50 years, starring in many iconic films. Among his many memorable roles was that of rascally outlaw Bo Darville, who appeared in all three "Smokey and the Bandit" films (albeit as only a cameo in the third and final entry).

Born on February 11, 1936, Reynolds first garnered attention on the small screen, starring as blacksmith Quint Asper on "Gunsmoke" before taking the title roles in the short lived "Hawk" and "Dan August." His career kicked into high gear when he starred in John Boorman's 1972 thriller "Deliverance." This led to starring roles in hit films like "White Lightning," "The Longest Yard," and "Hooper." (Not to mention a notorious disrobed photo shoot in a 1972 issue of "Cosmopolitan," which helped turn him into a sex symbol.)

At the peak of his celebrity, Reynolds consistently ranked as the world's number one box office star in the annual Top Ten Movie Making Stars Poll, a title he held for five consecutive years (1978-1982). Yet he struggled throughout the '80s, producing more flops than hits. His critical standing plummeted as well, and he became a frequent contender at the Razzies. He rebounded with a return to television, winning an Emmy for his leading role on the sitcom "Evening Shade." His comeback reached a peak with Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights." His role as porno director Jack Horner won him a Golden Globe and earned him an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Reynolds remained active in front of the camera until his death from a heart attack at age 82.