Burt Reynolds had one of the best laughs, and it will be missed

Another iconic entertainer has passed, and while some may look back on Burt Reynolds’ body of work or philanthropic endeavors, I choose to look back on something else entirely: his laugh.

The infectious nature of his guffaw always made me smile, if not outright break into giggles. I was a bit young when “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Cannonball Run” movies were released (five movies between 1977 and 1984), but in reruns and the beauty of VHS tapes, I was exposed to his comic wit, his pearly whites and the power of a sarcastic look.

When the credits rolled at the end of “The Cannonball Run” films, it was the equivalent to what current Marvel post-credit scenes are to everyone these days. Watching Dom DeLuise and Burt trying to do a scene and one setting the other off on a laughing jag? Hilarious. Watching Burt’s mustache go from the down position to up after delivering a funny line? Priceless. And when it happens, it spreads like wildfire among other cast mates. It’s a thing of beauty.

Burt’s chuckles were not snickers or titters. He laughed with his whole body — most of his laughs were of the open-mouthed variety. In that, he conveyed a genuine nature that many actors, to this day, don’t. Reynolds’ laid-back nature when he was doing comedy had the capacity to transform my day. Unfettered cackles were better than the scripted ones, and that said something about him and life in general. It said: The funny is in the moment, but you have to be present to recognize it. Comedy is in the connection with those around you. You can’t deliver a great side-splitter without first knowing your audience, their stories and context.

Hector Adames, a neuropsychologist and associate professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, says laughter is very beneficial in almost everything that we do as human beings.

“Laughter has great benefits for our relationships, as well as our physical health and cognition,” he said. “In terms of relationships, laughter helps us connect with folks; we’re social creatures, and we cannot survive unless we’re connected with others. And physically, if you think about having a good belly laugh, your abdominals are engaged, your facial muscles become activated, and that introduces more oxygen into the bloodstream — all of those dynamics are really good for our brain and helps us reduce our stress hormones.

“There’s also research to suggest when we have that good belly laugh, it helps us decrease our blood pressure. Altogether, it just makes us feel good,” Adames adds. “Laughter also helps us pay attention and retain information, so it has benefits to our memory function.”

So, thanks for the laughs, Burt. You aided my development — mentally, physically and emotionally. Yes, you may have been Cosmopolitan magazine's first male centerfold (1972). Yes, you were an athlete before you hit the big screen. Yes, you were the mustachioed man who had all of the Golden Girls (Dorothy, Blanche and Rose) admitting to their promiscuous tendencies. (And until the day I die, I’ll always believe that Burt and Tom Selleck are the only white dudes who can pull off a hairy lip for decades and have it still look classy.) But above all that, Burt, you had a sense of humor that was unequivocally unique.

If laughter is the best medicine, Burt’s mirth doled out doses that helped fortify my funny bone in my youth. Burt and his laugh will be missed.

drockett@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @DarcelTribune

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