Old School Americana & Nostalgia

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Herbert ‘Cowboy’ Coward, ‘Deliverance’ Star, Dead at 85

Herbert ‘Cowboy’ Coward, ‘Deliverance’ Star, Dead at 85

Reports indicate that Herbert “Cowboy” Coward, best known for playing Toothless Man in Deliverance, has died at 85 years old. Coward was involved in an auto crash on Wednesday in North Carolina.

According to news station WLOS and FOX Carolina, Coward and one passenger, his girlfriend Bertha Brooks, 78, were killed in the accident. Coward reportedly was turning onto a highway when an oncoming truck hit his car. A 16-year-old driver was behind the wheel of the truck. The teenager was taken to the hospital.

WLOS also indicates that Herbert Coward and Brooks were not wearing any seatbelts at the time of the crash. It’s not believed that the teen driver was speeding when this occurred. No charges have been filed in the accident. Also killed in the crash were his pet Chihuahua and pet squirrel.

North Carolina Highway Patrol Sgt. Michael Owens, according to the Smoky Mountain News, said troopers responded to a 911 call reporting the collision at 3:23 p.m. Wednesday. Owens said Coward and Brooks were leaving a doctor’s appointment from an office off U.S. 19 between Clyde and Canton. Coward failed to yield on the road.

Then, the Nissan passenger car he was driving was struck on the passenger side by a Ford F-150. That was the truck driven by the teenager. Owens said that speed was not a factor in the crash.

‘Deliverance’ Scene Features Jon Voight, ‘Cowboy’ Coward

Deliverance was one of the box-office hits in 1972. It starred Burt Reynolds, who at the time was one of the most popular movie actors in the world. Jon Voight, Ronny Cox, and Ned Beatty also starred in the picture. Deliverance was nominated for three Oscars in 1973, including Best Picture.

In a scene from the movie below, Voight’s character interacts with Toothless Man. Coward’s character faces off with Voight’s in a climactic scene from Deliverance.

In 2011, Coward’s wife Dorothy died. They had been married for 51 years and had four children. Deliverance was directed by John Boorman, People reports.

Burt Reynolds Helped Coward Get His Role

During an appearance on Conan in 2018, Reynolds talked about getting Herbert Coward a part in the movie. “John Boorman, an Irish director, the best director I ever had, said, ‘Where am I gonna find these guys … the Mountain Men?’” Reynolds said. “And I said, ‘I know a guy. He can’t read and he can’t write or anything, but I’m telling you, if we can get him we got something special.’ So I said, ‘Let me bring him in. His name’s Cowboy, and you’ll see if you like him.’”

During his audition, Deliverance star Herbert Coward offered up his own take on a line he was reading. Reynolds remembered that Coward got the role right then and there.

When they were filming Deliverance, Reynolds said that he told Coward the following: “‘Cowboy, just whatever you wanna say, say it. They’ll cut it out if they don’t like it.’ He just started ad-libbing up a storm. And they kept every word he said because it was gold.”

The movie provided a real, gritty look at mountain living. In the plot, four guys from the city decide to go into the backwoods of Georgia for some canoeing. But they were dogged by the mountain men, who made it their job to haunt the city visitors. Reynolds plays Lewis Medlock, who brings along his three friends as they travel down the Calahuwassee River.

Music fans also know that the song Dueling Banjos was part of the movie. It was performed by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell and is on the movie soundtrack.