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.”
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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.