Richard Dreyfuss: An Exploration of a Versatile Career and Influential Figure

Richard Stephen Dreyfuss, born on October 29, 1947, is an American actor, television personality, and author of Jewish heritage. He has earned accolades such as the Oscar for Best Actor, Golden Globe Award, and BAFTA for his outstanding performance in the film "The Goodbye Girl."

Early Life

Richard Dreyfuss was born in Brooklyn, New York, to parents Norman Dreyfuss, a lawyer and restaurateur, and Geraldine, an activist. The family name has Yiddish origins, likely stemming from the German city of Trier, historically home to a significant Jewish population during ancient and medieval times. The Latin name for Trier is "Treveris," which some believe led to the variation "Dreyfuss." As Dreyfuss once noted, "I grew up thinking that Alfred Dreyfus and I were from the same family."

Career Beginnings

Dreyfuss's acting career began during his teenage years when he performed at the Beverly Hills Jewish Center. At the age of 15, he made his debut in the television production "In Mama's House."

During the Vietnam War era, Dreyfuss chose not to serve in the military due to conscientious objections but worked as a clerk at a Los Angeles hospital. During that time, he appeared in various television series in minor roles, including "Peyton Place," "Gidget," "Bewitched," and "The Big Valley." Toward the late 1960s and early 1970s, he also ventured onto Broadway, Off-Broadway, and into experimental theater.

His first film role came in 1967 in "The Graduate," though he went uncredited, delivering only a single line: "Shall I call the cops? I'll call the cops." He also had a small role in "Valley of the Dolls" where he had a few lines. In 1973, he appeared in "Dillinger" and played a prominent role in the box office hit "American Graffiti" alongside future stars Harrison Ford and Ron Howard. Dreyfuss's first major leading role was in the Canadian film "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz."

Breakthrough and Recognition

Dreyfuss gained widespread recognition with his roles in Steven Spielberg's films "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in 1975. In 1977, he won the Oscar for Best Actor, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA Award for his portrayal in "The Goodbye Girl."

In 1978, Dreyfuss struggled with substance abuse, primarily cocaine. Four years later, after a car accident, he realized the extent of his addiction and sought treatment. He successfully completed rehabilitation and made a comeback with films like "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Stakeout" in 1986.

In 1991, he starred alongside Bill Murray in the comedy "What About Bob?" and also participated in the production of "Prisoner of Honor," a historical drama based on his role as French officer Georges Picquart. In 1994, Dreyfuss was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor and a Golden Globe for his role in "Mr. Holland's Opus."

Later Career and Personal Life

In 2004, Dreyfuss appeared in the Broadway play "Sly Fox." However, a week before the London premiere of the musical "The Producers" in November 2004, he withdrew from the production. Reports indicated that Dreyfuss was still recovering from a herniated disc surgery he underwent in January and was physically unfit for the demanding role. Dreyfuss was replaced by Nathan Lane for the London premiere and was subsequently let go from the production.

In 2006, Dreyfuss played a survivor in the film "Poseidon." Two years later, he portrayed Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone's film "W."

In early 2009, Dreyfuss appeared in the play "Complicit," directed by Kevin Spacey, at the Old Vic Theatre in London. His participation in the play was surrounded by controversy due to reports that Dreyfuss used earpieces on stage, allegedly due to difficulties learning lines in time. That same year, he also provided his voice for a guest appearance in the animated TV series "Family Guy."

In 2015, Dreyfuss starred in the American version of the Israeli series "Srugim," titled "Your Family or Mine," on TBS, though the series was eventually canceled.

Dreyfuss has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard.

Personal Life and Advocacy

Richard Dreyfuss was married to Jeramie Rain, a screenwriter and producer, from 1983 to 1995. They have three children: Emily (1983), Benjamin (1986), and Harry (1990). Benjamin was born with retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer, which prompted Dreyfuss and Rain to raise funds for ophthalmology centers across the United States.

Dreyfuss has been open about his struggles with bipolar disorder and was featured in Stephen Fry's documentary, "Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive," which explored mental health issues.

In August 2008, Dreyfuss reportedly sued his father and uncle for an unpaid loan of over $870,000, dating back more than 24 years. He claimed that the loan was never repaid. Dreyfuss cited issues related to a herniated disc surgery he underwent in January as part of the ongoing dispute, along with physical damages. He sought repayment of the loan with interest and damages.

In 1999, Dreyfuss married Janelle Lacey, but they divorced. In 2006, he married Svetlana Erokhin, a Russian-born woman, and they currently reside in San Diego.

Political Engagement

Dreyfuss has been an outspoken advocate for issues related to civic education, civil liberties, freedom of expression, democracy, and personal responsibility. He has organized and supported campaigns aimed at raising public awareness about what he sees as potential human rights infringements, which began in response to alleged human rights abuses during the George W. Bush administration.

He has delivered speeches and written extensively on these topics and appeared in various media outlets to discuss legislative matters and public opinion. In 2006, he addressed the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., with the hope of sparking a national debate on the subject of impeachment against President Bush. He also participated in a discussion on civics education in schools on the television program "Real Time with Bill Maher."

In 2007, he appeared in the documentary film "18 in '08," focusing on youth voting participation. Today, Dreyfuss is a senior fellow at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.


Dreyfuss has partially shifted his focus from acting to a national project aimed at promoting the teaching of American history in elementary schools across the United States. He is currently a senior associate at Saint Antony's College, part of the University of Oxford.


In 1995, Dreyfuss co-authored the alternate history/mystery novel "The Two Georges" with science fiction author Harry Turtledove. The book was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

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