Smokey and the Bandit stunt driving coordinator to receive prestigious award Saturday

This weekend, Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham received an honorary Oscar at the 2012 Governors Awards. He his credited with more than 300 films, and PowerBlock fans would probably recognize his work in Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run.

So, how did this Hollywood hero get started? Hal told NPR that becoming a stuntman was really an accident. “Before I went in the military, I was a treetopper. [He pruned trees.] When I went in the military, I was a paratrooper. I got out, I moved to Orange County, and I went back into the tree business and broke my ankle,” Hal told NPR. “And while I was healing up, there was a little root-beer stand close by and I’d go over and have some. There, I met a guy who was an ex-paratrooper, who was trying to break into Hollywood. And he got us a job on the show called You Asked for It. It was a request program, and he wrote the request and we did the stunt. He was on horseback in a full gallop and I was sitting out on the wheel of a 150 Cessna, and as we flew over, I jumped out of the Cessna and knocked him off the horse. That’s how I got my first job. He got me my second job, which was The Spirit of St. Louis starring Jimmy Stewart. My job was to either stand on the top of the wing of an old biplane as they were doing loops … or hang on a rope ladder, hanging by my ankles, and then transfer from the top of one wing to the bottom of another one. And that was my second job and I said, ‘Wow. Look at all of the money I made — I think I will change jobs.’ And that’s how I decided to be a stuntman.”

Check out the video below to see Hal at work on RTM’s former show, Car and Driver!