Herbert Coward, ‘Deliverance’ star, Dead After Vicious Car Wreck

By Victor Winston, updated on January 25, 2024

The film industry mourns the loss of a unique talent, Herbert "Cowboy" Coward, who passed away in a tragic car accident.

Herbert Coward, recognized for his memorable role in the 1972 film "Deliverance," died in a car crash at 85, along with his girlfriend and two pets.

Herbert Coward, born in North Carolina, gained fame for his portrayal of a menacing hillbilly in "Deliverance." His performance opposite Jon Voight and Ned Beatty is still remembered for its raw intensity. Coward's most famous line from the film, "He got a real pretty mouth, ain't he?" left an indelible mark on cinema history.

From theme park stunts to silver screen

Coward's journey to stardom was unconventional. In the 1960s, he worked as a stuntman at Ghost Town theme park in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Here, he caught actor Burt Reynolds's eye, leading to his casting in "Deliverance." Coward's lack of formal education, exemplified by his illiteracy and stuttering, did not hinder his acting career. Instead, it added a layer of authenticity to his performances.

Renowned for doing his stunts, Coward once described the harrowing experiences of stunt work in early cinema. "In the old days when you fell off the roof, you had to know how many times to roll to hit the ground. There weren’t [any] airbags. Just solid ground down there," he recalled.

The tragic accident that claimed Coward's life also resulted in the death of his girlfriend, Bertha Brooks, their chihuahua, and squirrel. The incident occurred in North Carolina on January 25th, 2023. The driver of the other vehicle, a 16-year-old, survived but was hospitalized.

A friendship born from admiration

Coward's relationship with Burt Reynolds was a testament to his genuine nature. "Burt said he didn’t have but three friends — real friends — and I was one of them because I never asked him for nothing," Coward once shared about their bond. This friendship was evident until Reynolds' passing in September 2018, when Coward visited him shortly before.

Reflecting on Coward's life, Reynolds once remarked, "He couldn’t read or write and he stuttered, but he was a wonderful actor." This statement captures the essence of Coward's resilience and talent, overcoming personal challenges to excel in his craft.

Herbert Coward's legacy extends beyond "Deliverance." In 2007, he reunited with his co-star Bill McKinney for a film about Ghost Town, the theme park where his journey began. This reunion highlighted his lasting impact on both the film industry and his colleagues.

A life lived quietly in the mountains

In recent years, Coward embraced a serene life in the North Carolina mountains, away from the spotlight. His departure from the bustling film world didn't diminish his influence on those who admired his work in "Deliverance" and beyond.

The story of Herbert Coward serves as a reminder of the diverse paths to success in the entertainment industry. His journey from a stuntman at a local theme park to a remembered figure in cinema history is as remarkable as it is inspiring.

Coward's impact on film and his dedication to authenticity in his roles will not be forgotten. His unique contribution to "Deliverance" remains a testament to the power of raw, untrained talent in storytelling. The film industry has lost a distinctive voice, but his legacy will continue influencing aspiring actors and filmmakers.

A legacy etched in cinematic history

Herbert "Cowboy" Coward's life story, marked by his iconic role in "Deliverance," his friendship with Burt Reynolds, and his humble beginnings, is a beacon of perseverance and authenticity in the arts. His passing in a tragic accident is a loss to the film world and those who knew him personally. Coward's journey from the rugged terrains of stunt work to the heights of cinematic acclaim is a narrative that will continue to inspire for future generations.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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