(born March 6
) is an American stuntman
and noted film director.
Needham was born in Memphis, Tennessee
to Edith May and Howard Needham. He was raised in Arkansas
. Needham was a paratrooper
during the Korean War
, worked as a treetopper, and was a billboard model for Viceroy Cigarettes
while beginning a career in Hollywood as a motion picture stuntman.
Needham's first break was as the stunt double for actor Richard Boone
on the popular TV western Have Gun, Will Travel
. Needham trained under John Wayne
's stunt double Chuck Roberson
and quickly became one of the top stuntman of the 1960s on such films as How the West Was Won
, The War Lord
, and Little Big Man
. He doubled regularly for Clint Walker
and Burt Reynolds
. Needham moved into stunt coordinating and directing second unit action, while designing and introducing air bags and other innovative equipment to the industry.
In 1971, he and fellow stuntmen Glenn Wilder, Ronnie Rondell, Jr., and Robert Tessier created Stunts Unlimited. Needham had written a screenplay titled Smokey and the Bandit and his friend Reynolds offered him the chance to direct. The film was a huge hit, and the two followed it with the popular Hooper and The Cannonball Run.
Needham moved out of stunt work, focusing his energy on the World Land Speed Record project that eventually became the Budweiser Rocket, driven most notably by stuntman Stan Barrett. The team failed to set an officially sanctioned World Land Speed Record with the vehicle, and their claims to have broken the sound barrier in 1979 have been heavily disputed. In the 1980's he was best known as the owner for the Harry Gant Skoal Bandit #33 car driven in the Winston Cup Series.
He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Taurus World Stunt Awards.