Student in public schools.
He is best known for his frequent collaborations with actor Burt Reynolds, usually in films involving fast cars, such as Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, The Cannonball Run and Stroker Ace. He was raised in Arkansas and Missouri. Needham served in the United States Army as 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. 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.
Needham at one time lived in Burt Reynolds' guesthouse for the better part of 12 years. In 1971, he and fellow stuntmen Glenn Wilder and Ronnie Rondell formed 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 Hooper, The Cannonball Run, and Stroker Ace. Needham also directed the 1986 BMX film Rad. 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 1980s he was best known as the owner for the Harry Gant Skoal Bandit #33 car driven in the Winston Cup Series. He died in 2013 at the age of 82 shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.
Served with Paratroopers United States Army, 1951-1954. Member Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild American, Writers Guild American, American Federation of television and Radio Artists.
Married Dani Janssen, June 28, 1981 (separated). Children: Debra Jean, Daniel Albert, David Allyn.