On this day in 1947, the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who will rise to fame in Hollywood in the 1970s with starring roles in such movies as American Graffiti, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goodbye Girl, is born in Brooklyn, New York.
Dreyfuss, who registered as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and worked at a hospital instead of joining the military, began his acting career in the 1960s, working in theater and television. His first big movie role was in 1973’s American Graffiti, directed by George Lucas (who four years later would have a massive hit with Star Wars). American Graffiti told the story of two young men (Dreyfuss and Ron Howard) who spend a final night cruising around their California town with their buddies before they are both scheduled to leave for college the next morning. In 1974, Dreyfuss played the title role in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, about a poor Jewish boy growing up in Montreal who becomes obsessed with owning his own land.
In 1975, Dreyfuss co-starred with Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw in the director Steven Spielberg’s breakthrough film, Jaws, about a killer shark that terrorizes a beach community. Jaws, in which Dreyfuss played the marine biologist Matt Hooper, was the first movie to gross more than $100 million. Dreyfuss went on to star in Spielberg’s next blockbuster, 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which he portrayed a man contacted by aliens. That same year, Dreyfuss starred in the director Herbert Ross’s The Goodbye Girl, which was based on a Neil Simon screenplay about a struggling actor who unexpectedly ends up sharing an apartment with a woman and her young daughter. The Goodbye Girl was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Dreyfuss won the Best Actor Oscar.
In the early 1980s, the unconventionally handsome actor’s acting career cooled amidst a drug arrest and several box-office disappointments. However, in 1986 he co-starred with Nick Nolte and Bette Midler in the well-received comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills and in the director Rob Reiner’s hit Stand by Me. In 1988, he teamed with Danny DeVito in the writer-director Barry Levinson’s Tin Men, about two aluminum-siding salesmen. During the 1990s, Dreyfuss was featured in such movies as Postcards from the Edge (1990), with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine; What About Bob? (1991), with Bill Murray; Another Stakeout (1993), with Emilio Estevez and Rosie O’Donnell; and Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as a high school music teacher.
In 2001, Dreyfuss played Alexander Haig, the U.S. secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, in the TV movie The Day Reagan was Shot. Also that year, he starred as a college professor in the TV series The Education of Max Bickford, which was cancelled in 2002. In 2006, he was part of the ensemble cast of Poseidon, a remake of the 1972 disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure. More recently, in 2008, Dreyfuss played Vice President Dick Cheney in writer-director Oliver Stone’s W., about President George W. Bush.