frequently bespectacled, eventually balding, and prematurely
gray, Richard Dreyfuss is an unlikely candidate for a movie
star. Even so, he has been one of Hollywood's most versatile,
charismatic, and energetic leading men since the mid-'70s.
Born in Brooklyn, NY, on October 29, 1947, Dreyfuss moved
to Los Angeles with his family when he was nine. There he
became friends with Rob Reiner and began acting in school
productions and at the Beverly Hills Jewish Community Center.
He attended San Fernando Valley State College, but was expelled
after getting into a heated argument with a professor over
Marlon Brando's performance in Julius Caesar (1953). Not
wanting to be drafted for Vietnam, he registered as a conscientious
objector and spent two years as a clerk at a Los Angeles
hospital instead of enlisting. During this time, Dreyfuss
started getting a few acting jobs on network television
series such as Bewitched and Big Valley; he had his first
film role in 1967's The Graduate, speaking the lines "Shall
I call the cops? I'll call the cops" to Dustin Hoffman.
He continued playing bit parts in a couple more films, but
did not get his first big break until he played Baby Face
Nelson in the bloody biopic Dillinger (1973). A memorable
leading role as an intelligent, contemplative teen in George
Lucas' American Graffiti (1973) earned Dreyfuss critical
acclaim, as did his portrayal of an entrepreneurial Jewish
youth in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974).
1975, the actor's career exploded when he starred as an
arrogant shark expert in Steven Spielberg's Jaws. He worked
for Spielberg again two years later, playing an average
Midwestern working stiff who learns that we are not alone
in the universe in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Further
success followed that same year when Dreyfuss portrayed
a failed actor in Neil Simon's romantic comedy The Goodbye
Girl. His performance won him an Oscar, making him, at the
age of 29, the youngest performer ever to receive the Best
Actor honor. After that, Dreyfuss was in demand and, until
1981, he continued to find steady work in a number of films.
However, none of these proved particularly popular, and
the actor's career began to nosedive. Matters were worsened
by his reported drug use and Hollywood party antics; in
1982, he was involved in a car accident and arrested for
possession of cocaine.