Jerry Reed, a singer who became a good ol’ boy actor in car chase movies like “Smokey and the Bandit,” has died of complications from emphysema at 71.
His longtime booking agent, Carrie Moore-Reed, no relation to the star, said Reed died early Monday.
“He’s one of the greatest entertainers in the world. That’s the way I feel about him,” Moore-Reed said.
Sony BMG Nashville Chairman Joe Galante called Reed a larger-than-life personality.
“Everything about Jerry was distinctive: his guitar playing, writing, voice and especially his sense of humor,” Galante said. “I was honored to have worked with him.”
Reed’s catalog of country chart hits, from 1967 through 1983, were released under the label group’s RCA imprint.
As a singer in the 1970s and early 1980s, Reed had a string of hits that included “Amos Moses,” “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” “East Bound and Down,” “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)” and “The Bird.”
In the mid-1970s, he began acting in movies such as “Smokey and the Bandit” with Burt Reynolds, usually as a good ol’ boy. But he was an ornery heavy in “Gator,” directed by Reynolds, and a hateful coach in 1998’s “The Waterboy,” starring Adam Sandler.
Reynolds gave him a shiny black 1980 Trans Am like the one they used in “Smokey and the Bandit.”
Reed and Kris Kristofferson paved the way for Nashville music personalities to make inroads into films. Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers (TV movies) followed their lead.
“I went around the corner to motion pictures,” he said in a 1992 AP interview.
Reed had quadruple bypass surgery in June 1999.
Born in Atlanta, Reed learned to play guitar at age 8 when his mother bought him a $2 guitar and showed him how to play a G-chord.
He dropped out of high school to tour with Ernest Tubb and Faron Young.
At 17, he signed his first recording contract, with Capitol Records.
He moved to Nashville in the mid-1960s where he caught the eye of Chet Atkins.
He first established himself as a songwriter. Elvis Presley recorded two of his songs, “U.S. Male” and “Guitar Man” (both in 1968). He also wrote the hit “A Thing Called Love,” which was recorded in 1972 by Johnny Cash. He also wrote songs for Brenda Lee, Tom Jones, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Reed was voted instrumentalist of the year in 1970 by the Country Music Association.
He won a Grammy Award for “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” in 1971. A year earlier, he shared a Grammy with Chet Atkins for their collaboration, “Me and Jerry.” In 1992, Atkins and Reed won a Grammy for “Sneakin’ Around.”
Singer-guitarist Brad Paisley said Reed was one of country music’s most influential players.
“Anyone who picks a country guitar knows of his mastery of the instrument — one of the most inspirational stylists in the history of country music, a complete master,” Paisley said. “I’m in debt to him for paving the way for myself and the other guitarists of today.”
Reed continued performing on the road into the late 1990s, doing about 80 shows a year.
“I’m proud of the songs, I’m proud of things that I did with Chet (Atkins), I’m proud that I played guitar and was accepted by musicians and guitar players,” he told the AP in 1992.
In a 1998 interview with The Tennessean, he admitted that his acting ability was questionable.
“I used to watch people like Richard Burton and Mel Gibson and think, ‘I could never do that.’
“When people ask me what my motivation is, I have a simple answer: money.”