Hal Needham arrives at the 4th Annual Governors Awards at Hollywood and Highland Center's Ray Dolby Ballroom on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
(USA Today) -- Heaven just gained a guy who could jump out of a plane or onto a stagecoach like nobody's business.
Hal Needham, a former military paratrooper who later became one of Hollywood's top stuntmen and a film director, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 82 after a short bout with cancer, according to Variety.
The Tennessee native was first a stunt double for Richard Boone on the 1950s Western TV show Have Gun, Will Travel, and parlayed that into big-screen work on How the West Was Won, Little Big Man, Blazing Saddles, Chinatown and other films in the 1960s and '70s.
After enduring countless injuries - in his career, he broke 56 bones, including his back twice - Needham moved into filmmaking. He wrote the screenplay for Smokey and the Bandit, and his friend Burt Reynolds offered him a chance to direct it as a 1977 comedy starring the actor and Sally Field.
Needham directed the 1980 Bandit sequel and the Reynolds movies Hooper (1978), Cannonball Run (1981) and Stroker Ace (1983), plus the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring Western vehicle The Villain (1979), Megaforce (1982) and Rad (1986).
The former stuntman penned a 2011 memoir about his time in the movies, Stuntman!: My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life.
In 2012, Needham was honored with a Governors Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and was introduced by Quentin Tarantino. "You know, you're looking at the luckiest man alive," Needham said during his acceptance speech. "And lucky to be alive."
Schwarzenegger paid tribute to him on Twitter Friday: "Hal Needham was a great stunt coordinator, director, and an icon. I'm still grateful he took a chance with me in The Villain. I'll miss him."