Deliverance ‘inbred banjo kid’ unrecognisable 50 years on as he shuns fame

It was the film that did for canoeing trips what Jaws did for inflatable lilo sales.

And this July marks the 50th anniversary of the nightmarish 1972 backwoods thriller Deliverance, in which a group of city-slicker friends go on a weekend camping break in America's Deep South only to find the local hillbillies are anything but welcoming.

Starring Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronnie Cox as the four pals, the film was a huge critical success but drew criticism for what some called its stereotypical depiction of the native Appalachian community as dangerous inbreds.

An explicit scene of male rape, with its now-notorious "squeal like a pig" line, also shocked many who went to see it.

However, despite its celebrity cast, the one character in the movie who everyone remembers is only actually on screen for a few minutes and isn't even played by a proper actor.

A long-time fan favourite, he's the odd-looking young boy who, during his one brief scene, sits on a dilapidated front porch and challenges Cox's character to a banjo duel after the group stop to fill their car up with petrol.

He was portrayed by Billy Redden, a resident of Rabun County in northeastern Georgia where the film was shot.

Aged 15 at the time, his skinny frame, large head and narrow eyes drew the attention of crew members when they scouted the area for extras to appear in the film.

What a lot of people don't realise, however, is that Redden couldn't even play the banjo.

Indeed, all the impressive, high-speed fretwork you see onscreen is down to an unseen musician who sits out of shot and pokes his arm through the sleeve of Redden's specially-designed shirt to create the illusion he's the one with all the skills.

But what even fewer know is what happened to Redden, now 65, after the film had been released.

Having briefly organised sightseeing trips down the nearby Chattooga River in an attempt to capitalise on the movie's popularity, he went on to pop up in a number of other films, all of which – perhaps unsurprisingly – featured him holding a banjo.

Perhaps the most high profile of these was Tim Burton's 2003 film Big Fish, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance in which Redden was cast as a member of a small town greeting committee.

He also did a series of odd jobs, from working as a dishwasher to diner chef. Most recently, he found employment in customer service at a branch of US supermarket giant Walmart.

Nevertheless, while Deliverance confirmed his unlikely place in the annals of cinema history, he's not been entirely complimentary about it in the past, criticising its portrayal of those from his hometown.

"We're not a bad people up here, we're a loving people," he said on the 2012 documentary The Deliverance of Rabun County.

"Rabun County is a pretty good town. It's real peaceful, not a lot of crime going on.

"Everybody pretty much gets along with everybody."

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