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To keep up with his studies, he began taking classes at Palm Beach Junior College (PBJC) in neighboring Lake Worth.
In his first term at PBJC, Reynolds was in an English class taught by Watson B. Duncan pushed Reynolds into trying out for a play he was producing, Outward Bound.
In his 2014 autobiography But Enough About Me, Reynolds said his mother had Italian ancestry.
During his career, Reynolds often claimed to have been born in Waycross, Georgia, but confirmed in 2015 that he was born in Lansing, Michigan.
Reynolds also co-owned a NASCAR Winston Cup team, Mach 1 Racing, with Hal Needham, which ran the #33 Skoal Bandit car with driver Harry Gant.
While filming City Heat, Reynolds was struck in the face with a metal chair and had temporomandibular joint dysfunction. The painkillers he was prescribed led to addiction, which took several years to break.
These injuries hampered Reynolds' abilities on the field, and after being beaten in coverage for the game-winning touchdown in a 7-0 loss to North Carolina State on October 12, 1957, he decided to give up football.
Ending his college football career, Reynolds thought of becoming a police officer, but his father suggested that he finish college and become a parole officer.
His father became Chief of Police of Riviera Beach, which is adjacent to the north side of West Palm Beach, Florida.
After the play closed, the director, John Forsythe, arranged a film audition with Joshua Logan for Reynolds. Reynolds was told that he could not be in the film because he looked too much like Marlon Brando.
Logan advised Reynolds to go to Hollywood, but Reynolds did not feel confident enough to do so.
Reynolds played the leading role in a number of box office films, including The Longest Yard (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and The Cannonball Run (1981).
He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Boogie Nights (1997).