Beloved NC resident — known for movie role and pet squirrel — dies in crash, cops say

A beloved actor known as “The Squirrel Man” was one of two people killed in a crash in Western North Carolina, officials said.

Herbert “Cowboy” Coward, 85, was famous for his role as the Toothless Man in the 1972 movie “Deliverance” and was often seen with his pet squirrel, according to IMDb and the N.C. State Highway Patrol.

“He had the pet squirrel on a leash, tied to his overalls,” Sgt. Michael Owens told McClatchy News in a phone interview. “The squirrel was with him all the time.”

But Coward’s life was cut short Jan. 24 in a Haywood County crash. State troopers said Coward was driving when he failed to yield to the right of way and pulled in front of a pickup truck.

Coward and his passenger, 78-year-old Bertha Brooks, died in the crash. The actor’s chihuahua and pet squirrel also were killed, troopers said.

Coward and Brooks were in a relationship and lived in Canton, a mountain town roughly 20 miles southwest of Asheville. The actor was well-known in Haywood County and earned the nickname “The Squirrel Man,” The Mountaineer reported.

“For years and for thousands of people, especially children, Cowboy Coward, his antics, and his squirrel put smiles on so many faces,” Zeb Smathers, the mayor of Canton, wrote in a Facebook post. “Whether it be at the grocery store or a random encounter, Cowboy would laugh, take a picture, and confirm yes that was him in ‘(Deliverance).’

The deadly crash was reported along U.S. Highway 19 in the Canton area. Troopers said Coward and Brooks were leaving a doctor’s office when their sedan collided with the pickup.

The pickup driver, a 16-year-old high school student, went to a hospital to be evaluated. Troopers don’t believe speed or distraction contributed to the crash, and no one was charged as of early Jan. 25.

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