OK, I was never a fan. Like many my age, however, Smokey and the Bandit was one of the first 'adult' movies we saw, with adult themes, adult humor and, thanks to Sheriff Buford T. Justice, adult language. Reynolds was in a string of movies in the 70s, had his own short lived television show for a while, dated Loni Anderson, married the same, divorced the same, declared bankruptcy, and had a bit of a rebirth in the 90s and 00s.
Nonetheless, he hit it big at that time in my life when time itself seems relative. At that age, something grabs hold of the culture and you'd swear it had been going on since the beginning of time. At that age, Steve Martin had been saying 'Excuuuuuuuuuse ME!' for centuries. Disco had been around forever (yuck). And it seemed as if there was never a time in modern history where Burt Reynolds wasn't the sex symbol against which all sex symbols were ever measured.
Of course as you get older, you realize these huge, media and pop culture generated phenomena were really just flashes in the pan. You look back, do a little research, and realize just how fast they came and went. Perhaps in today's Internet and Social Media world, it's different for youngsters. I duuno.
Nevertheless, back then, in the mid to late 1970s, when I was approaching my teenage years and moving away from kiddom, it seemed as if Burt Reynolds had always been a mega star, and there was never a time when he would fade away.
But fade away he has. As we all eventually do. Peace and God's grace to him and his loved ones. My God give them love and that peace that surpasses all understanding. He was a part of the fabric that makes up the whole of my childhood memories, and for that I thank him.