MOTW: Richard Dreyfuss: Legendary Leading Man

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A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
March 22nd, 2013

MOTW: Richard Dreyfuss: Legendary Leading Man

Despite his wire-rimmed spectacles and prematurely grayed hair, Richard Dreyfuss is one of Hollywood's most legendary leading men. His career on the stage and screen has already spanned close to fifty years, although it has had its share of ups and downs.

Richard Stephen Dreyfuss was born in Brooklyn, New York, on Oct. 29, 1947, to Norman and Geraldine Dreyfus. Theater wasn't exactly in the family's blood. The Dreyfus patriarch worked as a lawyer and restaurateur, while the mother spent her time fighting for world peace. Richard spent his early childhood years in Bayside, Queens before his father moved the family to Europe and then to the West Coast.

The Dreyfus clan settled in Los Angeles when Richard was nine years old. By the time he was a teenager, acting had been in his blood. He attended Beverly Hills High School with classmates Albert Brooks and Rob Reiner and became active in the local community theater. He briefly attended what is now California State University in Northridge but was asked to leave after arguing with one of the school's professors. Following in his mother's footsteps, he registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He was forced to spend a few years performing service in a hospital instead of the military.

By the mid-60s, Dreyfuss was appearing in hit television shows at the time, including "Ben Casey," "Gidget," "Please Don't Eat the Daisies," "Bewitched," and "That Girl." He also appeared in several Broadway and off-Broadway shows, including "The Time of Your Life" alongside megastars Henry Fonda and Jane Alexander.

In 1967, he landed uncredited roles in his first two big-screen movies-"Valley of the Dolls" and "The Graduate." Many critics call his rendition of the infamous Baby Face Nelson in the 1973 film "Dillinger" Dreyfuss' coming out role, and the one that launched him squarely into the limelight. He quickly followed it up by playing the role of Curt in "American Graffiti," for which he received his first Golden Globe Best Actor nomination, and Duddy in "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz," which turned out to be the highest-grossing Canadian film of the 1970s.

Steven Spielberg turned out to be the catalyst who put Dreyfuss' career into overdrive by casting him as the brash shark expert Hooper in the 1975 smash hit "Jaws" and Roy Neary in the 1977 blockbuster "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." In 1978, at the age of 29, Dreyfuss became the youngest actor to receive a Best Actor Academy Award for his role as Elliot Garfield in "The Goodbye Girl."

The early 1980s wound up to be a very dark time for Dreyfuss as he became more and more involved with drugs and alcohol. After crashing his car into a tree in 1982, he was arrested on felony drug charges that were subsequently dropped. He entered a rehabilitation program, but his career experienced a slowdown.

Dreyfuss began a comeback in earnest in 1986 with critically acclaimed performances in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "Stakeout," "The American President," and "What About Bob?" In 1995, his role in "Mr. Holland's Opus" earned him both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, and he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1996.

Despite the outward signs of success, one thing started to become very clear-his career in film was winding down. He turned to television and B movies to fill in the gaps, appearing in TV shows such as "The Education of Max Bickford" and "Tin Man," and movies that included "Piranha" and "Poseidon."

Dreyfuss' career appeared to make a comeback with his 2008 portrayal of Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone's hit movie "W," followed up by the role of Warren Schiff in the hit television show "Weeds" and Gilliam T. Blount on "Parenthood." In 2012, he also played the role of Professor Hillside in the television mini-series "Coma."

Whether his career will make a full comeback or not remains to be seen. As of 2013, he has one film, "Very Good Girls," waiting to be released, and three in post-production. In addition, he is filming a fifth movie. While Richard Dreyfuss will always remain a Hollywood legend, his shining star may be starting to fade.

Dreyfuss' marriage to his first wife, Jeramie Rain, produced three children before the couple divorced. His second marriage, to Janelle Lacy, ended after six years. Dreyfuss married his third wife, Svetlana Erokhin, in 2006. They currently reside in San Diego, California. Dreyfuss has spent a lifetime battling bipolar disorder. He currently spends much of his free time as a political activist.