(NationalUSNews.com) — Iconic actor Herbert “Cowboy” Coward, best known for his disturbing role as “the toothless man” in the 1972 film Deliverance, died on Wednesday, January 24. Coward, who was 85, and his girlfriend, 78-year-old Bertha Brooks, were both killed in a car crash turning onto a highway in North Carolina when they were hit by a truck driven by a 16-year-old driver, who was taken to the hospital. The teenage driver is not believed to have been speeding, and Coward and Brooks were not wearing seatbelts. Coward’s chihuahua, Little Man, and his pet squirrel, Angel, were also killed in the accident. No charges were filed.
A local boy of Haywood County, North Carolina, he was born in 1938 and lived there most of his life. In the 1960s, he worked at a local western-themed amusement park called Ghost Town in the Sky at Ghost Mountain Park as an outlaw gunfighter. The park hosted several stars of TV westerns, which is how he met Burt Reynolds, who he remained friends with until Rynold’s death in 2018. Coward was a widower who had outlived all his siblings and three of his children.
When looking for an actor to play the sinister toothless man in Deliverance, Reynold’s suggested Coward for the part, telling the director, John Boorman, “I know a guy”. As Coward couldn’t read or write, he couldn’t read the lines he was supposed to say during the audition, but Reynolds told him to just do whatever came to mind and say what he wanted to say. He assured Coward that they would just cut anything that wouldn’t work. According to Reynolds, everything he said was so good that they kept all of it.
Coward was a local fixture in North Carolina, often accompanied by his dog and his squirrel, who was always happy to take pictures or sign autographs. His film credits include Deliverance in 1972, Ghost Town: The Movie in 2007, and an episode of Hillbilly Blood in 2013. He was also an associate producer on Ghost Town: The Movie, which was based on the legend of Harmon Teaster, a Haywood County native, and involved many of the original 1960s gunfighter crew from Ghost Town in the Sky at Ghost Mountain Park.
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