Tribute to Hal Needham

TRIBUTE TO HAL NEEDHAM

The greatest stuntman that ever lived and iconic action director died yesterday.

GOD BLESS Hal NEEDHAM!

I was Hal Needham’s protégé for many years. He was one of the most giving and helpful people I ever met. It’s impossible to explain how much he did for me personally, and how much he meant to me.

I was also an all-around athlete that grew up with cars, boats and motorcycles and represented the United States on 12 different world teams for tumbling trampoline, professional springboard diving and high diving. I had been into stunts for about three years mostly around Austin, Texas until I was hired as a Stunt Coordinator on a film in California titled The Pack. One of the LA stuntmen I hired, Walter Wyatt, was a close friend of Hal Needham’s and help persuade me to move to LA. I went, and Walter introduced me to Hal Needham the first week I was there. It turns out that Hal had seen me on ABC’s Wide World of Sports when I won the World High Diving championships off the cliffs in Acapulco, México and Trampoline Championships that were held in London, England. I was totally starstruck by Hal and his secretary called me that night to tell me Hal wanted another meeting with me the next day. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep that night, and at the meeting Hal started telling me what it meant to double a big star. After spending a few minutes listening to Hal I thanked him for the information and told him I hope I would be able to double a star someday. Hal told me that the reason he was telling me that was because he was giving me the job of stunt doubling Burt Reynolds. I damn near passed out right on the spot! That was in 1977 and I worked with Hal and Burt Reynolds consistently after that for the next 14 years and had the opportunity to travel the world with them on one show after the other. I personally saw Hal Needham help so many people in so many different ways and some of them never knew where the blessings came from. I remember the first day of shooting on the film “The Villain” that was jam-packed with major film stars playing different cameo roles. It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ann Margaret and I was the stunt double for Kirk Douglas, and in the beginning everyone gathered together while Hal Needham’s mother said a nice prayer to start the film off right. His son David Needham also worked most of Hal’s shows and inherited Hal’s southern charm and good manners. The crew for Hal and Burt’s shows were more like an extended family. Hal was also known as a screamer and was very demanding in all areas of filmmaking and loved breaking a lot of the supposed rules of directing. You could either love him or hate him but there is no doubt that he did more for stuntpeople in the industry than most people will ever know, and he brought stunt performers into the forefront with his feature blockbuster film titled “Hooper” that he wrote using actual incidents that had happened to him over the years. Hal and his good friend Bill Fredericks that designed and built the Budweiser rocket car teamed up to create one of the industry’s most elaborate, safe and creative camera cars “Shot Maker” that is still the state-of-the-art today.

Hal loved being controversial but he loved the film industry as much as anyone I’ve ever met. Anyone that knew Hal had to respect his abilities and go-for-it attitude in risking his life on so many occasions when he was not certain of the actual outcome of the stunt. He was the only stuntman that has ever received an Oscar (Academy award) for his contribution to the industry, not only for stunts but the technical and innovative things he introduced that made the industry better and safer. The industry’s transformation to computer generated imagery (CGI) has substituted for some of the most dangerous and difficult stunts that the top stuntmen performed in real life before its inception.

It is my intention to honor this man’s man because I don’t have to read the Hollywood Reporter or Variety to interpret who Hal Needham really was. TAKE MY WORD FOR IT, Hal Needham was a giant among men. He created the kind of energy you could feel by standing near him. He was definitely a hell raiser but at times I was able to see the boyish enthusiasm and true substance that made this man great!

God bless you Hal, there will never be another man that can fill your shoes.

With All of My Love and Respect,

Bobby Sargent

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