Herbert “Cowboy” Coward, the sometime actor and pal of Burt Reynolds who played one of the scary, sadistic mountain men in John Boorman’s Deliverance, died Wednesday in a car crash in North Carolina. He was 85.
His death, along with that of his girlfriend Bertha Brooks, 78, and their pet Chihuahua and squirrel, was announced by North Carolina State Highway Patrol officials.
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The crash occurred around 3:30 p.m. ET Wednesday on a U.S. Route 19/23 in Haywood County. According to patrol officials, Coward’s vehicle was struck by a pickup truck driven by a 16-year-old, who was taken to a hospital for treatment. No charges have been filed.
North Carolina troopers told Asheville TV station WLOS that Coward had just left a doctor’s office when his car was struck by the teen driver, who was not speeding. Neither Coward nor Brooks was wearing a seat belt.
Coward had come to Reynold’s attention during the early 1960s when the two worked as actors at an Old West ghost town amusement park in Maggie Valley, NC, where Bonanza‘s Dan Blocker also got his start. Coward would later say that his famous toothless grin was the result of a prop gun accident at the amusement park.
Years later, when Reynolds was filming the 1972 survivalist classic, he remembered Coward and recommended him to director Boorman to play one of the two sadistic mountain men who stalk and rape Ned Beatty’s Bobby Trippe character. Coward, who at the time could neither read nor write, often would say that he came up with famous “squeal like a pig” line spoken by actor Bill McKinney, who played the other mountain man.
Coward also came up with his own infamously memorable taunt directed at Beatty’s bound victim: “He got a real purty mouth, ain’t he?”
Coward’s character was billed simply as “Toothless Man” in the Deliverance credits.
After Deliverance, Coward went to work for BASF factor in Asheville, NC, where he’d work for 27 years. He briefly returned to acting for 2007’s Ghost Town: The Movie and had a role in a 2013 episode of the TV series Hillbilly Blood.
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