If you were paying attention while watching the Oscars last night, you might have heard that Arkansas-raised stuntman Hal Needham was one of those who received an honorary Academy Award this year. Before his retirement, Needham was a pioneer in the stunt industry, developing many techniques for making stunts more dramatic and safer, including the development of the high-fall airbag. As pointed out by Quentin Tarantino when he introduced Needham at the Governors Awards back in December, Needham is only the second stunt performer/stunt coordinator in history to receive an Oscar.
Born a dirt-poor sharecropper's son, Needham parlayed a stint as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and work as a tree trimmer into a career as a stuntman and filmmaker, directing screwball, fast-car cult classics like "Smokey and the Bandit," "Hooper," and "Cannonball Run." We talked to him at length just prior to his appearance at the Little Rock Film Festival in 2011. You can read the extensive Q&A here.
When we asked him why he thinks there is an Academy Award category for almost every facet of film making except stunts, Needham said he's glad they don't give out Oscars in his line of work, and gave an excellent answer why:
"My belief is, when a person goes in and pays his money to see a movie, and he sees his hero up there doing something spectacular, you don't want him to stop and think: 'I wonder if that's the star, or if it's a stuntman?' You want them to enjoy the movie. I think stuntmen should take their check and go on their way."
Seen above is video of Needham's emotional speech on accepting his Oscar. "You're looking at the luckiest man alive," Needham told the crowd, "and lucky to be alive."