Hal Needham Dead; Legendary Stuntman and Director Was 82

Vet directed 'Smokey and the Bandit,' 'Cannonball Run'

Hal Needham, longtime stuntman and director of “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Cannonball Run” for Burt Reynolds, died Friday in Los Angeles after a short battle with cancer, his manager confirmed. He was 82.

At one time the highest paid stuntman in the world, he was said to have broken 56 bones, broken his back twice, punctured a lung and knocked out a few teeth while working on 4500 TV episodes and 310 feature films. His work was admired by generations of filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino.

Needham, a native of Tennessee, broke into show business as a stunt double for Richard Boone on the series “Have Gun, Will Travel.” Among the hundreds of films on which he did stunts were “Stagecoach,” “How the West Was Won,” “The Bridge at Remagen,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Little Big Man.”

He became friends with Reynolds, who offered Needham the opportunity to direct “Smokey and the Bandit,” for which Needham had written the screenplay. Needham also directed “Hooper,” “Stroker Ace,””Street Luge” and “Rad.”

SEE ALSO PHOTOS: Hal Needham, Director and Stuntman

Needham received a Governors Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences last year, where he was introduced by Tarantino, who said, “I have ripped off a lot of shots from you, and today I say, ‘Thank you very much.’” At the tribute,  Needham called himself “the luckiest man alive and lucky to be alive.”

He developed numerous camera and production innovations, and won a Scientific and Engineering Oscar in 1987 for the design and development of the Shotmaker Elite camera car and crane. Among his other inventions were the air ram, air bag, car cannon turnover, nitrogen ratchet, jerk-off ratchet and rocket power.

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  1. soledo says:

    Rest in Peace Hal, you’ll be missed
    Condolences to the family and friends.
    With all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it s worth reflecting on the death of A VERY IMPORTANT PERSON WHICH ALMOST WENT UNNOTICED last week. Larry La Prise, the man who wrote “the Hokey Pokey”, died peacefully at age 93.

  2. J.A.S. says:

    RIP Mr. Needham. Stroker Ace was the type of movie I never would have thought to see but when I did, I laughed harder than I had at any previous comedy I had seen.

  3. Bubba Trucker says:

    There goes my last chance to prove that *I* was the first and original RED LIGHT BANDIT back in 1975.

  4. AshannaK says:

    I wish he could have stayed with us longer but we were blessed to have him for as long as we did.

  5. RoddyG says:

    A very generous man. Made time for young filmmakers and tried to help them on their projects. RIP

  6. Steve Turek says:

    Gods Speed old friend. You set the standards. The NASCAR races we went to….Harry Gant driving for you. Way too fun. Plus the boxing at the Forum….You lived a heck of a life. I’ll miss ya.

  7. The name not mentioned in the video excerpt…the actor that gave Hal Needham (God rest his soul) a directing career and what followed on that…is Burt Reynolds, who virtually (if not literally) sacrificed — or, at the very least, compromised — his career and “star” status by appearing in many of Needham’s low-brow movies. (Reynolds turned down the role of the astronaut in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT [which won Jack Nicholson an Oscar] because the actor has promised Needham to appear in the director’s CANNONBALL RUN II.)

    One might speculate about their relationship, but without the one there would not be the other as we’ve come to know it.

    • Frank W says:

      But Burt is mentioned in the article. Shame about losing Terms of Endearment, since I loved Burt in the serious comedy he made, Starting Over. He would have been great.

  8. Mike Ray says:

    R.I.P. Hal brought a lot of joy and entertainment to all.

  9. irma glutz says:

    Glad I was lucky enough to have spent time with him back in the 70’s …. what an amazing character.. and so many funny stories and so much fun to be with

  10. Kevin Mulvey says:

    He will be missed and he always had plenty gags in his bag of stunts

  11. Suzan Green says:

    Hal was lots of fun! He used to come into our office and flirt! But politely.

  12. Ruth Deutsch says:

    Thanks for including the video. What a nice man! He will be missed.

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