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Hal Needham, a Hollywood stuntman who climbed the ranks to become a director, has died at age 82. Some of his directing credits include the hits Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run.
Needham died on Friday following a short battle with cancer, the Hollywood Reporter confirmed. His death comes nearly a year after receiving an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards.
His career in Hollywood began on television as a stunt double in the Western Have Gun, Will Travel, but the Memphis-native soon made the leap to features, notes TheWrap. He appeared as a stuntman in films like How The West Was Won, Little Big Man, Chinatown and Blazing Saddles.
Reportedly the highest paid stuntman in the business, he had often doubled for Burt Reynolds. In 1976, he approached him with the loose idea for Smokey and the Bandit. It became Needham's first film as director and a major success, grossing $126 million.
Needham would go on to work with Reynolds again, directing both The Cannonball Run and Hooper.
“I have lost a friend, a colleague, and a mentor. Words cannot describe the sense of loss that I feel right now,” Reynolds said in a statement to TheWrap. He called him “one of a kind.”
“I was shocked to hear the news, nobody knew he was sick, but that is the way Hal was, not wanting to burden anyone else, but to shoulder it himself. I loved him like a brother. And I miss him already,” Reynolds said.
Hal Needham was a great stunt coordinator, director, and an icon. I’m still grateful he took a chance with me in The Villain. I’ll miss him.
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) October 25, 2013
When Needham accepted his Oscar last November, he told the Academy, “You know, you’re looking at the luckiest man alive. And lucky to be alive.”