Hal Brett Needham (March 6, 1931 – October 25, 2013) was an American stuntman, film director, actor and writer. He is best known for his frequent collaborations with actor Burt Reynolds, usually in films involving fast cars, such as Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, The Cannonball Run and Stroker Ace.
Needham was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Edith May (née Robinson) and Howard Needham. He was raised in Arkansas and Missouri. Needham served in the United States Army as a paratrooper during the Korean War, worked as a treetopper[clarification needed], and was a billboard model for Viceroy Cigarettes while beginning a career in Hollywood as a motion picture stuntman.
Needham's first break was as the stunt double for actor Richard Boone on the popular TV western Have Gun, Will Travel. Needham trained under John Wayne's stunt double Chuck Roberson and quickly became one of the top stuntmen of the 1960s on such films as How the West Was Won, The Bridge at Remagen, McLintock!, The War Lord, and Little Big Man. He doubled regularly for Clint Walker and Burt Reynolds. Needham moved into stunt coordinating and directing second unit action, while designing and introducing air bags and other innovative equipment to the industry. Needham at one time lived in Burt Reynolds' guesthouse for the better part of 12 years.
In 1971, he and fellow stuntmen Glenn Wilder and Ronnie Rondell formed Stunts Unlimited. Needham had written a screenplay titled Smokey and the Bandit and his friend Reynolds offered him the chance to direct. The film was a huge hit, and the two followed it with Hooper, The Cannonball Run, and Stroker Ace, and Megaforce. Needham also directed the 1986 BMX film Rad.
In 1977, Gabriel Toys introduced the "Hal Needham Western Movie Stunt Set" complete with a cardboard old west saloon movie set, lights and props, a toy movie camera and a spring-launched Hal Needham action figure that would break through a balcony railing, land on breakaway table and chairs and crash through a window. They were only manufactured for a short time and have since become highly collectible.
Needham moved out of stunt work, focusing his energy on the World Land Speed Record project that eventually became the Budweiser Rocket, driven most notably by stuntman Stan Barrett. The team failed to set an officially sanctioned World land speed record with the vehicle, and their claims to have broken the sound barrier in 1979 have been heavily disputed. In the 1980s he was best known as the owner for the Harry Gant Skoal Bandit #33 car driven in the Winston Cup Series.
Needham received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Taurus World Stunt Awards. In 2012 he was awarded a Governors Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, where he was introduced by Quentin Tarantino.
- The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958) - Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
- Shoot Out at Big Sag (1962) - Saloon Brawler (uncredited)
- McLintock! (1963) - Carter (uncredited)
- Advance to the Rear (1964) - Rebel Soldier (uncredited)
- In Harm's Way (1965) - Airman in the Blue Lagoon (uncredited)
- The Great Race (1965) - Saloon Brawler (uncredited)
- The War Wagon (1967) - Hite
- The Devil's Brigade (1968) - The Sergeant
- The Undefeated (1969) - Yankee Corporal at River Crossing (uncredited)
- Sometimes a Great Notion (1970) - Man at Racetrack
- One More Train to Rob (1971) - Bert Gant
- The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972) - Burgess
- McQ (1974) - Santiago Henchman (uncredited)
- Blazing Saddles (1974) - Outlaw (uncredited)
- French Connection II (1975) - Doyle Kidnapper (uncredited)
- W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975) - Trooper Carson
- Take a Hard Ride (1975) - Garmes (uncredited)
- Jackson County Jail (1976) - Chief of Fallsburg Police
- The Cannonball Run (1981) - Ambulance EMT (uncredited)
- Megaforce (1982) - Technician (uncredited)
- Stroker Ace (1983) - Man Punching Stroker Into Ladies Room (uncredited)
- Cannonball Run II (1984) - Porsche 928 Driver with Cowboy Hat (uncredited)
- Rad (1986)
- Body Slam (1987)
- Bandit (film series) (1994) (TV)
- Hard Time (1999) (TV)
- Hostage Hotel (1999) (TV)
- "Hal Needham Biography (1931-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
- "Hollywood 'Stuntman!' Reveals Tricks Of Trade". NPR. February 7, 2011. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
- Armstrong, Lois (July 20, 1981). "Burt Reynolds Gives Away His Buddy, Director Hal Needham, to David Janssen's Widow". People. Archived from the original on November 20, 2012.
- "2012 Governor Awards". Oscars.org. 2012.
- Chawkins, Steve (October 25, 2013). "Hal Needham, veteran Hollywood stuntman and director, dies at 82". The Los Angeles Times.
- Truitt, Brian (October 25, 2013). "Iconic stuntman, director Hal Needham dies at 82". USA Today. Gannett. Retrieved 26 October 2013.