North Carolina local, Herbert “Cowboy” Coward, who played the Toothless Man in the 1972 thriller Deliverance, died in a car accident on Wednesday.
The 85-year-old actor and his girlfriend Bertha Brooks, 78, were killed in a highway collision with a 16-year-old truck driver.
According to local news reports, the incident occurred in Haywood County, North Carolina, on Wednesday.
North Carolina State Highway Patrol officials said that Coward was merging onto the highway when his vehicle was struck by a novice driver who was not thought to be speeding at the time of accident.
RIP Herbert “Cowboy” Coward (1938-2024). pic.twitter.com/VE0ejSxQyJ
— Richard Harland Smith (@RHarlandSmith) January 25, 2024
Coward and Brooks were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the collision and wear killed along with Coward’s pet squirrel and Chihuahua, who were riding in the vehicle.
The teenage driver survived the crash and was taken to a local hospital. The 16-year-old has not been charged with any offenses stemming from the accident.
Coward was best known for his small role in John Boorman’s Deliverance, which starred Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox
In the thriller, four businessmen’s canoeing trip in remote Georgia goes horrifically wrong when they’re attacked by sadistic mountain men.
Coward, who notably played the “Toothless Man,” was one of the mountain men who held Voight and Beatty’s characters at gunpoint while one of them was sodomized.
Herbert Cowboy Coward died today in a wreck in Haywood. His girlfriend, dog, and squirrel were also killed. Most folks know him from that line in Deliverance. But one time he seen me sitting by myself at the Waffle House in Waynesville and just come eat with me. He was a good one pic.twitter.com/85L7cZDdZq
— 𝑫𝒂𝒗𝒊𝒅 𝑱𝒐𝒚 (@DavidJoy_Author) January 25, 2024
Coward skyrocketed into infamy for his famous lines from the assault, “He got a real purty mouth, ain’t he?” and “squeal like a pig.”
The film, which one of two that Coward ever acted in for the entirety of his career, was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1973, including Best Picture.
Reynolds, who died in 2018, urged Boorman to hire Coward when he was looking for actors to play the mountain men.
According to Entertainment Weekly, the pair had worked together at a Wild-West themed amusement park prior to Reynolds’ rise to fame.
“John Boorman, an Irish director, the best director I ever had, said, ‘Where am I gonna find these guys … the Mountain Men?'” Reynolds told Conan O’Brien in a 2018 interview.
“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.'”
Reynolds not only put Coward up for the role, he coached him on how to audition.
“Burt had my number and called me to come over there where they were going to be filming,” he remarked to ABC.
“He said when the producer comes in, he’ll ask you to act like you’re mad and act like you’re hurt,” Coward detailed.
“Then he’ll ask you, ‘Is that as mad as you can act?’ and you just do whatever flies into your head.”
What he came up with was immediately slapping the producer after he asked if that was as mad as Coward could get.
“He said, ‘That’s mad enough’ and I got the job,” he laughed.
The North Carolina local was cast immediately and went on to help propel the film into an instant classic.
“He couldn’t read or write and he stuttered, but he was a wonderful actor,” Reynolds commented about Coward during a cast reunion the year prior.
He said that Coward was so good at coming up with his own lines, that most of them made it into the film.
“‘Cowboy, just whatever you wanna say, say it. They’ll cut it out if they don’t like it,’ ” he told the actor.
“He just started ad-libbing up a storm. And they kept every word he said because it was gold.”