To the uninitiated, acting legend Burt Reynolds was just another white actor who reaped innumerable benefits from decades of him being the top-billed name on the marquee above other names of other white actors. But a closer look at the cinematic career of the actor who died Thursday morning showed that he was not only a champion of diversity in Hollywood, but that his films and TV shows often featured Black actors, something that at the time was a rarity.
In fact, he acted and performed alongside more Black people than people give him credit for.
Notable Black actors and celebrities who appeared alongside Reynolds range from the old school (Paul Winfield, Flip Wilson, Bernie Casey and Ossie Davis, to name but a few) to more recent stars like Chris Rock and even the rapper Nelly. But what’s indisputable is that each of the names is a legend in his or her own right.
Reynolds was outspoken about needing more diversity in Hollywood both behind and in front of the cameras. He told the BBC in 2015 that he gets “quite angry about” racism in Hollywood. “”I was the first one to speak up to the director and the producer and say – you have to change these things because it’s not right the way we’re talking about them,” he added.
It was unclear if he ever did more to help bring more color to a lily white industry, but just being a white matinee idol who at least seemed willing to perform alongside Black talent likely helped convince the Hollywood decision-makers who were (and still are) decidedly not Black to look outside of their comfort zone for actors of color, both men and women.
As proof, we’ve assembled dozens of photos of Reynolds acting or otherwise appearing alongside Black actors or celebrities. Take a look below, as some of the pictures just might surprise you.
1. Bernie CaseySource:Getty
Actors Bernie Casey and Burt Reynolds on set of the movie “Sharky’s Machine,” circa 1981. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
2. Ossie DavisSource:Getty
EVENING SHADE cast member Burt Reynolds (as Wood Newton) and Ossie Davis (as Ponder Blue). Image dated 1991. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images)
3. Jim BrownSource:Getty
Burt Reynolds and football star-turned-actor Jim Brown in Spain for the location shoot of the western ‘100 Rifles’, 1969. (Photo by Terry O’Neill/Iconic Images/Getty Images)
4. Flip WilsonSource:Getty
(left to right) Flip Wilson as Geraldine, Burt Reynolds as himself on “The Flip Wilson Show” that aired Nov. 8, 1972. (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
5. Paul WinfieldSource:Getty
Ernest Borgnine tells Paul Winfield and Burt Reynolds their theories are farfetched in a scene from the film ‘Hustle’, 1975. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)
Nelly and Burt Reynolds during the Ccst of ‘The Longest Yard’ visit to MTV’s ‘TRL’ on May 23, 2005, at Times Square in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)
7. Dionne WarwickSource:Getty
(left to right) Dyan Cannon, Burt Reynolds, Bob Hope and Dionne Warwick during The Bob Hope Comedy Special in 1981. Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank
8. DL HughleySource:Getty
DL Hughley and Actor Burt Reynolds appear on the set of ‘Cloud Nine’ on May 12, 2004, at Will Rodgers State Beach, in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images)
9. ‘The Longest Yard’Source:Getty
Burt Reynolds uproots a tree in a scene from the film ‘The Longest Yard’, 1974. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)
10. Ena HartmanSource:Getty
‘The King is Dead’ – Airdate Oct. 14, 1970. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) ENA HARTMAN; BURT REYNOLDS
11. Ossie DavisSource:Getty
(right to left) Burt Reynolds, Clint Walker and Ossie Davis on set of the movie ‘Sam Whiskey’ in 1969. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
12. Don CheadleSource:Getty
(from left) John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore and Heather Graham at the ‘Boogie Nights’ premiere. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
13. Michael Clark Duncan and Jerry RiceSource:Getty
Michael Clark Duncan, Burt Reynolds and Jerry Rice during 2000 ESPY Awards at MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
14. Chris RockSource:Getty
Burt Reynolds, Chris Rock and Adam Sandler flanked by Hooters girls during the taping for ‘The Best Darn Sports Show’ at the Jacksonville Landing. The actors were promoting the release their new movie, a remake of ‘The Longest Yard.’ (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
15. Bernie Casey and Marsha WarfieldSource:Getty
(left to right) Bernie Casey, host Marsha Warfield and Burt Reynolds on The Marsha Warfield Show. Photo by: Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
16. Garrett MorrisSource:Getty
(left to right) Harry Shearer as Lyle, Garrett Morris as Julian, Burt Reynolds as Lewis during the ‘Deliverance II’ sketch, Saturday Night Live, April 12, 1980.
(Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
17. LaVern BakerSource:Getty
Actress Loni Anderson, Burt Reynolds and singer LaVern Baker attend LaVern Baker’s Opening Night Singing Engagement on Sept. 8, 1992, at the Cinegrill, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
18. Sammy Davis, Jr.Source:Getty
Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra sit on a car on set of the film ‘Cannonball Run II’, 1984. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
19. Michael Clarke DuncanSource:Getty
Michael Clarke Duncan and Burt Reynolds during 2000 NATO/Showest Convention at Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
20. Jim BrownSource:Getty
Jim Brown, Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch on the set of “100 Rifles.” (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
21. Hoda KotbSource:Getty
Hoda Kotb and Burt Reynolds, March 15, 2018. (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
22. Angela BassettSource:Getty
(left to right): Angela Bassett and Burt Reynolds on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen, March 2018. (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
23. Ella EdwardsSource:Getty
‘The Color of Fury’ – Airdate Oct. 28, 1970. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) ELLA EDWARDS; NED ROMERO; BURT REYNOLDS; NORMAN FELL
24. Quinton AaronSource:Getty
Quinton Aaron and Burt Reynolds attend the 15th Annual Palm Beach International Film Festival. Aaron received the Horizon Award and Reynolds received the Lifetime Achievement Award on April 23, 2010, in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Carlos Marino/Getty Images)