One of Hollywood’s most famous stuntmen and the writer-director of Smokey And The Bandit died this morning. Hal Needham, who received an Honorary Oscar this year, was 82. The co-founder of Stunts Unlimited performed and/or coordinated stunts for hundreds of films and TV shows during his long career. He also pioneered a number of technical gadgets that furthered the art — and safety — of Hollywood stunt work, including the high-fall air bag, the air ram, the car cannon turnover and Shotmaker Elite camera car and crane, for which he won a Scientific Oscar in 1987 and an engineering Emmy three years later. The Memphis native and Korean War paratrooper was Richard Boone’s stunt double on Have Gun — Will Travel from 1957-63 and also worked on such classic series as Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible and Mannix. By the mid-’70s, Needham was focusing mostly on movies, working on such hits as Blazing Saddles, Chinatown, The French Connection II and A Star Is Born. He began a long association with Burt Reynolds with the 1973 western The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing. He went on to work with the popular actor on films including White Lightning, The Longest Yard and Gator before penning and helming the 1977 smash Smokey And The Bandit.
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The film’s success led Needham to focus on directing, and he helmed the ensuing Reynolds starrers Hooper, Smokey And The Bandit II, Stroker Ace, The Cannonball Run and its sequel. He also wrote the screenplays for Stroker Ace, Cannonball Run II and 1983’s Megaforce. He also wrote and directed a series of Bandit TV movies in the mid-’90s. Outside of Hollywood, he and Reynolds owned the Skoal Bandit NASCAR team, which won a number of races during the 1980s.