After doubling for Burt Reynolds for years, he turned to directing the actor in such fun-loving films as “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Cannonball Run” and “Stroker Ace.”
Hal Needham, a stuntman who dazzled Hollywood for years before directing such Burt Reynolds films as Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run, has died. He was 82.
Needham, who received a honorary Oscar at the 2012 Governors Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, died in Los Angeles after a short battle with cancer, producer Gale Anne Hurd reported.
“RIP Hal Needham, legendary stuntman, stunt coordinator and director. Truly one of the greatest ever,” Hurd posted on her Twitter account Friday.
Reputed to be the highest-paid stuntman in the movies, Needham garnered his first directing job in 1976 with Smokey and the Bandit after he approached his longtime pal Reynolds (he often doubled for the actor) with a yarn about a good ol’ boy and his trucker friend who must transport a load of beer across state lines. Reynolds loved the idea, and the stuntman found himself in the director’s chair.
With lady’s man Reynolds at his wisecracking best and propelled by hair-raising vehicular stunts, Smokey and the Bandit was a runaway box-office hit, the second-highest grossing movie of 1977
Needham followed up with Hooper (1978), starring Reynolds with Sally Field. It was the story of a great Hollywood stuntman and was stirred with Needham’s own adventures. In fact, it featured 30 of Hollywood’s top stunt performers.
“I know one thing; I’ll never win an Academy Award. But I'll be a rich son of bitch. And that's what it’s all about,” he once told the Los Angeles Times. He once took out ads in the trades, highlighting his negative reviews but puncturing them with a shot of a wheelbarrow filled with money.
Needham though, did get an honorary Oscar. “I’ve never been presented anything this prestigious in my life,” he said after hearing he would be honored at the Governors Awards in November.
Needham often ended his films by showing humorous outtakes during the credits. He eschewed “serious” film talk: “Directing, it’s a snap,” he once said.
As a stunt performer and coordinator, Needham has worked on more than 30 films, including The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), How the West Was Won (1962), Little Big Man (1970), Blazing Saddles (1974) and Chinatown (1974). The co-founder of Stunts Unlimited and a mentor to young stunt performers, he earned the Academy’s Scientific and Engineering Award in 1986 for the design and development of the Shotmaker Elite camera car and crane, which allows filmmakers greater versatility in shooting action sequences.
“My first job was as a treetopper, and I was so damn good at it they called me “Squirrel,” he told THR in an interview in November. “And then I joined the military and became a paratrooper. And later on in life I raced motorcycles and cars. So I had a pretty good background for it. Plus, I was a pretty good athlete. When I came in, Westerns were the big thing, so I did horse falls, transfers, bulldogs, big fights. That’s where you could really shine if you were really good at it. But then all the Westerns stopped, and I was capable of doing car stunts, motorcycle stunts and high falls. I could do it all. I worked every day. I never turned down a stunt.”’
Needham said that during the course of roughly 300 movies and 4,500 television episodes, he broke 56 bones, including his back twice, punctured a lung, dislocated a shoulder and knocked out a bunch of teeth.
“I had to have a shoulder operated on, and that bothers me a little bit, but basically I’m in good shape,” he said then.
NEEDHAM, Hal (Harold Brett Needham)
Born: 3/6/1931, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A.
Died: 10/25/2013, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Hal Needham’s westerns – director, stunt coordinator, stuntman, actor.
The Big Country – 1958 [stunts]
Yancy Derringer (TV) – 1958, 1959 (soldier, Judge Randall’s guard, guard)
The Rifleman (TV) – 1959 (townsman)
Thunder in the Sun – 1959 [stunts]
The Restless Gun (TV) – 1959 (ambusher #1)
Riverboat (TV) – 1959, 1960 (river pirate, 2nd ruffian)
Black Saddle (TV) – 1960 [stunts]
Tate (TV) – 1960 (Sedon henchman)
The Rebel (TV) – 1960, 1961 (Indian, Indian)
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (TV) – 1961 (printer)
A Thunder of Drums – 1961 [stunts]
Tales of Wells Fargo (TV) – 1961, 1962 (Indian brave, 2nd cowhand)
Wagon Train (TV) – 1961, 1964 (warrior, saloon tough, Digger)
Frontier Circus (TV) – 1962 (Ralph Wexler)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – 1962 [stunts]
Shoot Out at Big Sag – 1962 (saloon brawler)
How the West Was Won - 1962 [stunts]
Rawhide (TV) – 1962, 1964 (Corporal Williams, Tom)
The Virginian (TV) – 1962, 1965, 1966, 1968 (The Man, brawler, bounty hunter, Jaimie McIntosh, ranch hand)
Gunsmoke (TV) – 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1969 (Billy Joe Carter, Ed, Indian, stagecoach cowboy,fighting cowboy, Mexican bandit, brawler, barfly, poker player, henchman, Charlie, renegade Indian)[Burt Reynolds stunt double]
Stoney Burke (TV) – 1963 (Rusty, Stan Fremont)
Laramie (TV) – 1963 (Collins) [stunts]
Have Gun - Will Travel (TV) – 1957-1963 (henchman, Jimmy Traynor,Wiggen, Apache, Harry Beldon, [stunt double: Richard Boone] [stunts]
McLintock! – 1963 (Carter) [stunts]
4 for Texas – 1963 [stunts]
The Raiders – 1963 [stunts]
Mail Order Bride – 1964 [stunts]
Advance to the Rear – 1964 [stunts]
Daniel Boone (TV) – 1964 (brawling settler)
Major Dundee – 1965 [stunts]
Shenandoah – 1965 [stunts]
Laredo (TV) – 1965 (Cole) [stunt double Peter Brown]
The Wild Wild West – 1965 (henchman, assailant)
The Rare Breed – 1966 [action coordinator]
Stagecoach – 1966 [stunts]
Alvarez Kelly – 1966 [stunts]
The Big Valley (TV) – 1966 [stunt double Richard Long]
The Ballad of Josie – 1967 [stunts]
The Way West – 1967 [stunts]
The War Wagon – 1967 (Hite) [stunts]
Cimarron Strip (TV) – 1967 (Yewcie)
100 Rifles - 1969 [stunts]The Great Bank Robbery – 1969 [stunts]
The Undefeated – 1969 (Yankee Corporal at River Crossing) [stunt coordinator, stunts]
The Animals – 1970 [stunts]
Chisum 1970 [stunt coordinator]
Dirty Dingus Magee – 1970 [stunts]
Little Big Man – 1970 [stunt gaffer]
Rio Lobo – 1970 [stunts]
One More Train to Rob – 1971 (Bert Gant) [stunt coordinator]
Something Big – 1971 [stunt coordinator]
Alias Smith and Jones (TV) – 1971, 1972 (Devil's Hole Gang Leader, Duke)
Hardcase (TV) – 1972 [stunt coordinator]
The Culpepper Cattle Co. – 1972 (Burgess) [stunt coordinator]
The Bounty Man (TV) – 1972 (Pike)
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean – 1972 [stunts]
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing – 1973 [stunt coordinator]
Blazing Saddles – 1973 (outlaw) [stunts]
Take a Hard Ride – 1975 (Garmes) [also stunts, assistant director]
The Villain (1979) [Director]