Richard Dreyfuss is one of those guys who’s been in the industry longer than most of us have been alive (seven decades). And he’s starred in some of the most iconic films – Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to name a couple. He’s an onscreen success, but offscreen, he hasn’t led such a winning life.
He’s been labeled difficult, faced trouble with the law, and feuded with some big kahunas in Hollywood. And the thing about Dreyfuss is that he’s never shied away from voicing his opinions. So, there isn’t much guess work as to where he stands.
The life of Richard Dreyfuss, ladies and gentlemen…
Don’t Call Him Bipolar
Dreyfuss was born in New York in 1949, the middle child of a lawyer/war veteran and a civil rights/peace activist was raised in Beverly Hills. By 11, Richard Dreyfuss learned that he was manic depressive (he doesn’t like the label of “bipolar” because it’s “too neutral and stodgy”).
But he never felt as though his condition carried any shame or stigma. “I have surfed my manic depression since I was 11 years old. I enjoyed it and made it work for me and have not known the world without it, so it’s my only known existence,” Dreyfuss told The Guardian.
Confident and Not Very Likable
Dreyfuss was already acting at nine years old; by his teen years, he was a professional actor. He earned a spot at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art but couldn’t actually go thanks to his objection to the Vietnam war (he would have had to do alternative service at an LA hospital for two years).
He was confident, but it rubbed people the wrong way. When Dreyfuss was 16, he got kicked out of an audition at a big studio for yelling at the director and casting director for making him wait.
Mr. New Hollywood Establishment
He later described the incident: “As I walked to my mother’s car, I felt glorious. I knew as a 100% certainty that I would make it as a movie star.” By the late ‘70s, he had already made American Graffiti, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Goodbye Girl.
People started calling him “Mr. New Hollywood Establishment” as well as “arrogant.” Eventually, Dreyfuss met Steven Spielberg, a director who wasn’t even a year older than him. “When I first met Steven, he was the uncrowned king of Hollywood,” Dreyfuss said.
Meeting the King of Hollywood
When they met, Spielberg had yet to make a feature film, but everyone knew his potential. The same, Dreyfuss says, goes for him. “I was the uncrowned prince of Hollywood because I hadn’t made a feature film either, but I was already turning down work, which you don’t do as a young actor.”
Dreyfuss, of course, played Matt Hooper in Spielberg’s Jaws, but the prince didn’t really like his king. The two weren’t friends when the filming of Jaws started. In fact, Spielberg was considering more veteran actors for Hooper. But Spielberg’s good friend George Lucas, who worked with Dreyfuss on American Graffiti, recommended the young actor.
He Was the Guy Who Didn’t Believe in the Movie
Dreyfuss wasn’t exactly pining for the role, though. Dreyfuss didn’t think this whole Jaws idea had potential. But he later admitted that he was wrong about the blockbuster hit. “So, when the film was released, I found myself going back to the talk shows and saying, ‘I’m the guy who didn’t believe in it.’”
After succeeding as the main character in the first Jaws, Dreyfuss decided not to be in the sequels. Shaw also refused to be in the sequels, but it reportedly had nothing to do with Dreyfuss, despite their epic feud.
His Feud With Robert Shaw Got Ugly
The rumors persisted that the two endured a feud that lasted the entire shoot. According to Dreyfuss, however, “I lost my sense of humour for one afternoon. That’s not a feud.” But everybody on the set of Jaws noticed that tensions were high between the two.
Yet Dreyfuss also admitted that Shaw was “the gentlest, funniest guy,” most of the time. It was just on set that Shaw became a different person. Spielberg attested to the fact that things got ugly. Spielberg said he saw Shaw take a glass from Dreyfuss and toss it out the window.
That “One Afternoon” on the Boat
Roy Scheider, who played Brody, remembered that Shaw picked on Dreyfuss about his weight. “Shaw would say, ‘Look at you, Dreyfuss. You eat and you drink and you’re fat and you’re sloppy. At your age, that’s criminal. Why, you couldn’t even do 10 good push-ups.’”
On that “one afternoon,” he threw Shaw’s drink into the ocean. Shaw then retaliated with a firehose. “I lost my sense of humour and that lasted about an hour,” Dreyfuss recalled. But that’s how he saw it. Schneider, on the other hand, remembers Shaw “really thought Dreyfuss needed a slapping down, young punk with no stage experience.”
He Trashed Other Actors to Get the Part
Even Spielberg was against a sequel and refused to direct it. Without Spielberg, Dreyfuss was never going to sign on. The dynamic duo decided to make another movie together, instead: Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Spielberg was already planning his next film, and Dreyfuss tried his best to influence his director friend to cast him as the guy who becomes obsessed with UFOs. “I swore an oath to myself that I would badmouth every actor in Hollywood,” Dreyfuss recalled, referring to how he lobbied for the part.
The Youngest Actor to Win the Best Actor Oscar
Close Encounters was a game changer, but there was another film of Dreyfuss’ from 1977 that made him an even bigger star. “One morning a friend of mine calls and says, ‘Did you hear that Bobby De Niro got fired this morning?'” Dreyfuss said.
The movie De Niro was allegedly fired from was called Bogart Slept Here – a film that became The Goodbye Girl. Dreyfuss played an abrasive young actor alongside Marsha Mason, with whom he shared some real chemistry. At 29, Dreyfuss became the youngest ever actor to win the Best Actor Oscar for The Goodbye Girl.
He Knew He Was Gonna Win the Oscar
When his agent called him to tell him he’d been nominated for The Goodbye Girl, Dreyfuss asked who else was nominated. After hearing the names Woody Allen, John Travolta, Marcello Mastroianni, and Richard Burton, Dreyfuss said, “I’m gonna win.”
And he did. While between 1973 and 1978 Dreyfuss was on a pedestal, he was always on the hunt, as he put it. “I’m much more comfortable on the hunt.” He explained: “I’ve always known that there was a kind of unlikelihood about my stardom.”
The Coke Cliché
As famous as Dreyfuss was, so was his substance abuse problem. His reign in fame was coated by a white substance that happened to take Hollywood, and the country, by storm in the ‘80s. Dreyfuss entered a haze of cocaine, drinking, and mayhem.
“I check off all the boxes of that cliché,” he confessed. By 1982, he was already hitting rock bottom. The actor was arrested for cocaine possession after crashing his Mercedes into a tree in Benedict Canyon. “I found myself… on my cheek and the car above me, held in by a seatbelt that I did not put on.”
From Denial to Haunting Visions
At the time, The New York Times reported that police looked in Dreyfuss’s car and discovered that he was riding around with “a vial of white powder.” The actor said he spent a week or so “in complete denial, trying to forget what had happened and what I was about to face.”
He recalled experiencing a “long moment of silence” when he realized right then and there that life had reached “a very distinct change in the road.” While he was in the hospital, family, producers, stars, and directors came to visit him. There was one visitor who haunted him…
The Little Girl in the Pink Dress
Dreyfuss explained how one particular vision helped him sober up – “a vision of a little girl in a pink dress and horn-rimmed glasses.” “There was no little girl in my life. I wasn’t married, I had no kids,” he said of the time.
He took it as a “warning.” That little girl “was either the little girl that I didn’t kill that night I completely lost control of my car, or she was the girl, the daughter I hadn’t had yet… I knew that as a certain fact,” he stated.
Sober, Married, and Dad to a Daughter
After leaving the hospital, his downward spiral continued. The little girl haunted him as he went to recovery meetings stoned. One night, Dreyfuss simply couldn’t ignore the girl anymore. He went home, got rid of all his booze, powder, and pills, and went to the next day’s recovery meeting sober for the first time.
Dreyfuss sobered up successfully, and six months later, he married writer-producer Jeramie Rain. Soon enough, he learned who that little girl in his vision was. One year to the date of his sobriety (November 19, 1982), his daughter was born on November 19, 1983.
His Son Accused Kevin Spacey of Groping Him
“My daughter wears horn-rimmed glasses. She wouldn’t be caught dead in a pink dress, but it was my daughter, and the older she gets the more I see it,” Dreyfuss said of his daughter Emily. A few years later, they had their son Benjamin and a few years after that, their son Harry.
Dreyfuss and Rain divorced in 1995, and it was the “one thing that makes me shriek in self-loathing,” he told BBC interview. It was his son Harry, actually, who went public in 2017 with his accusations against Kevin Spacey. He said Spacey groped him when he was 18. (Spacey denied this.)
Then Dreyfuss Got Accused Himself
Dreyfuss supported his son on Twitter (more on this incident further down the article), only to get accused himself by someone from his past. His post prompted a writer, Jessica Teich, to accuse Dreyfuss of exposing himself to her back in 1987. “Wait a minute, this guy harassed me for months,” Jessica Teich told Vulture.
“He was in a position of so much power over me, and I didn’t feel I could tell anyone about it. It just seemed so hypocritical.” Dreyfuss, however, denied this, and said he “had enormous respect for her and then she did this.”
That Day in His Trailer
Back in the ’80s, when he was working on the show Funny, You Don’t Look 200, Teich claimed she was the victim of “continual, overt, lewd comments and invitations from Dreyfuss.” She remembers one day when she walked into his trailer and he exposed himself to her.
According to Teich, Dreyfuss created a “very hostile work environment,” which made her feel “sexualized, objectified, and unsafe.” It was a power trip, she explained: “He was famous, he was rich, he had an Oscar.” Dreyfuss has declared nothing but innocence in this case.
He Thought They Had a Consensual “Seduction Ritual”
Dreyfuss told Vulture that he “emphatically” denies ever “exposing” himself to Teich – someone he called “a friend for 30 years.” He did admit to having flirted with her, though, and trying to kiss her “as part of what I thought was a consensual seduction ritual that went on and on for many years.”
He then added that he’s “horrified and bewildered to discover that it wasn’t consensual.” In an interview with The Guardian, Dreyfuss was asked if before the car crash, he did anything that would be considered as stepping over the line with women. “Of course,” he replied.
He Was a “Bad Guy” for Years
“I was a bad guy for a number of years,” Dreyfuss affirmed. “I did it and it wasn’t meant to be non-consensual. Everything I ever did I thought was consensual.” He said that after the Teich accusation, he was paranoid for a while.
He would ask close friends and women he worked with if he had ever done something inappropriate. (“Have I ever done this? Have I ever made your life unhappy?”) In regard to the Me-Too movement overall, Dreyfuss doesn’t welcome it and it’s because of the “loss of due process.”
A Serial Flirter
Dreyfuss admitted to having done wrong in his past. “I was swept up in a world of celebrity and drugs,” he told Vulture. “I flirted with all women,” he confessed, whether they were actresses, producers, “or 80-year-old grandmothers.”
He even flirted with the wives of his best friends. “I disrespected myself, and I disrespected them, and ignored my own ethics, which I regret more deeply than I can express.” He revealed that he grew not to like himself. “I became a schmuck,” he proclaimed, but all his “wrongs” were innate to him. “My motto was, if you don’t flirt, you die.”
Dreyfuss vs. Murray
One of Dreyfuss’ famous feuds was with Bill Murray (who tends to make rivals). The two worked together in 1991’s What About Bob? Just as Richard Dreyfuss’s character was driven crazy by his most irritating of patients (Bill Murray), so was the real actor by his actual co-star.
Dreyfuss recalled to Yahoo! that he had called Murray a “drunken bully.” He said Murray “put his face next to me, nose-to-nose…. and he screamed at the top of his lungs, ‘Everyone hates you! You are tolerated!’” Oh, but it doesn’t stop there…
Fury on the Set of What About Bob?
Dreyfuss continued to describe how there was no time to react as Murray grabbed a “modern glass-blown ashtray” and threw it at his face from merely a few feet away. It missed him. “He tried to hit me. I got up and left.”
Murray has admitted to being difficult. “It’s entertaining,” Murray told Entertainment Weekly. He said that he and Dreyfuss “didn’t get along on the movie particularly, but it worked for the movie.” He added, “I drove him nuts, and he encouraged me to drive him nuts.” And Dreyfuss never got over it.
Dreyfuss Is Ready to Forgive
18 years later, he told The A.V. Club, “I don’t like him, but he makes me laugh even now.” In 2017, at Toronto’s Fan Expo, Dreyfuss called Murray a “despicable pig.” Director Frank Oz remembers a lot of “friction and a lot of tension” on the set between Murray and Dreyfuss.
But “It wasn’t out of mean-spiritedness; it was just that everybody felt strongly about how to make the movie better.” In 2020, Dreyfuss said he was ready to forgive. He told CBS News that he has yet to cross paths with Murray, but that one day, he’ll “write him a note and say, ‘As far as I’m concerned, it’s over.'”
Walking Out on All That Jazz
After winning the Oscar for The Goodbye Girl, Dreyfuss was cast in All That Jazz. He accepted the role only to quit mere days before they were to begin filming in 1978. Why? Well, “artistic differences” were cited as the reason.
The Guardian reported that it came down to “his inability to cope with the physical demands of the role.” Dreyfuss was handed a $350,000 bill after leaving last minute. He told Roy Schneider, who took over the part, that he didn’t like Bob Fosse (who did the film) and that Fosse didn’t like him. Dreyfuss later admitted regretting his decision.
He Couldn’t Handle The Producers
In the mid ’00s, Dreyfuss was cast as Max Bialystock in Broadway’s The Producers. He had told Mel Brooks, “You know I can’t sing or dance, don’t you?” But Brooks apparently kept encouraging Dreyfuss to take the gig.
Dreyfuss realized he was in over his head. After all the training and rehearsals, it was announced that he had been released from the musical because he was unable “to fulfil the rigours of the role.” Choreographer Susan Stroman revealed that Dreyfuss “had been complaining about aches and pains; his body wasn’t up to the task.”
Battling His Dad in Court
In the ‘80s, Dreyfuss’ father, Norman Dreyfuss, approached him for a loan of $870,000. He needed it for a “family crisis.” But according to court documents, the loan was used to purchase a Los Angeles office building.
Dreyfuss claimed that his father (and uncle) have still never paid him 20 years on, and he didn’t see any of the business’ returns, despite having owned “at least 29 percent of the company.” In 2008, Dreyfuss sued. In 2012, he sued again. Norman died the year after, and it’s unclear if they ever resolved the issue before his passing.
His Battle With Being Bipolar
Dreyfuss has struggled with depression since his childhood, but for years, he never knew what was behind all those intense emotions that filled his life. “I didn’t know it was a manic state,” he explained to TODAY in 2021.
“I just thought I was really happy, and everything that was bad, I turned to good.” But he also illuminated how what seemed good to him was seen as odd to those around him. He began to realize that his actions were beyond his control.
He Stopped Feeling Guilty
“Every once in a while, when I was talking, I would find myself getting up and talking louder and faster and louder and faster and louder and faster,” he said. His friends would have to stop him and say, “OK, OK. Let’s get the big circus cables and throw them around his ankles and pull him gently back to Earth.”
Being diagnosed, for Dreyfuss, took away all of his guilt. “I found out it wasn’t my behavior — it was something I was born with.” And with that, he lost the feeling of shame or guilt. “It’s like being ashamed that you’re 5-foot-6 or something. It’s just part of me.”
No One Is Normal
Dreyfuss first spoke publicly about his diagnosis in 2006 with the documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. He was hoping to get rid of the stigma, which he referred to as “stupid.” He stated how he doesn’t “know anyone who’s normal.”
“Everybody’s got something,” he added. Dreyfuss has been working with the Hope for Depression Research Foundation and trying to help those who want help. “I’m, personally, not in a hurry to get rid of my condition, but most people are.”
Who’s Richard Dreyfuss Married To?
Dreyfuss and his third wife, Russian-born Svetlana Erokhin, tied the knot in 2006. They live in San Diego, which is where she found herself arrested in June 2014 after crashing her car into a wooden fence. Not only that – she hit a high-pressure water line and fled the scene.
San Diego County deputies caught up with her and placed her under arrest, charging her with a DUI and hit-and-run. Erokhin insists that she passed sobriety tests, saying she only had one glass of wine.
Ben and Emily Dreyfuss Talk Jaws
In 2014, Ben and Emily Dreyfuss – both journalists – talked about when they saw Jaws for the first time. Emily said that she forgot that the line “we’re going to need a bigger boat” wasn’t her dad’s at all, “which makes me even angrier when people quote that in regard to him,” she said.
The Dreyfuss kids first saw the epic film as a family 20 years earlier. Ben recalled watching it with their mom, Jeramie Rain, who exclaimed, “I love Jaws. My favorite part is when dad kills the shark.” When Ben said that he doesn’t kill it, she replied “Shut up, Ben. I was married to him for 10 years. He killed Jaws.”
Even Dreyfuss’ Family Got It All Wrong
After watching it again, Rain went, “Huh, I could have sworn he killed Jaws. I’ve been telling people that my ex-husband killed Jaws.” That’s when Ben said, “Well, I guess people think you were married to Roy Scheider.”
The kids admitted to realizing that their dad wasn’t actually the hero in Jaws. “I guess I basically forgot everything,” Emily said. She then said that she knows all the lines to her dad’s movies, having watched them all dozens of times. One of his films, Always, always makes her cry.
How Old Is Richard Dreyfuss?
The now 74-year-old has written some published pieces. In 1995, he co-authored a book with science-fiction writer Harry Turtledove called The Two Georges. The alternate history/mystery novel is about a world in which the American Revolution was peacefully avoided.
In 2015, Dreyfuss, along with others, published an article on “The Dreyfuss Civics Curriculum: A National Model for Civics Education in Elementary and Secondary Schools.” Thanks to the article, hundreds of teachers have brought back civics education to the classroom. Who knew he was so passionate about education?
The Kevin Spacey Incident
Back to 2017 and the Kevin Spacey ordeal, for a moment. Harry Dreyfuss wrote an essay (published by Buzzfeed), recounting the incident when Spacey came on to him and touched him inappropriately.
It occurred in 2008, while he and his dad were at Spacey’s home in London, going over lines from a script. At the time, Spacey directed Dreyfuss in the play Complicit. According to Harry, the three of them first chatted in the kitchen before heading into the living room.
He Finally Became Suspicious
On the living room couch, Harry and Spacey sat next to each other while Dreyfuss sat in a big chair on the side of the room. “After a few minutes, he put his hand on my thigh. Finally (finally, finally), I became suspicious,” Harry wrote.
Harry alluded to a few previous occasions that should have raised red flags. “It took that long because it just never occurred to me that Kevin would be interested in me in the first place. He was an adult man, a hero of mine, my dad’s boss,” he wrote.
From Uncomfortable to Inappropriate to Assault
Harry continued: “I thought, surely, he can’t be coming on to me like this right in front of my dad.” His dad didn’t notice any inappropriate touching “because he was deeply focused on his script.” Dreyfuss later told Buzzfeed that he never saw the incident and that his son only told him about it years later.
Harry explained how he moved to a different spot on the couch a number of times to deter Spacey from going any further, but the Oscar-winning actor kept following him. At one point in the evening, Spacey’s touch went from uncomfortable to inappropriate to assault.
His Mind Went Blank
“Over the course of about 20 seconds, centimeter by centimeter, Kevin crawled his hand from my thigh over toward my crotch,” he wrote. That’s when his “mind went blank.” He stopped reading the script and looked up at Spacey with his eyes wide.
“Looking into his eyes, I gave the most meager shake of my head that I could manage.” Harry described his attempt to warn him without alerting his dad, who still had his eyes firmly planted on the page. “I thought I was protecting everyone. I was protecting my dad’s career.”
It Took Him Years to Tell His Dad
Harry went on to say that he was even protecting Spacey, whom his dad “surely would have tried to punch.” And, lastly, he was protecting himself, because he figured that one day he would want to work with “this man.”
Despite the obvious rejection signs, he was getting from Harry, Spacey had no reaction and kept his hand there. And so, Harry had no choice but to continue reading his lines from the script. Harry said it took him years to reveal the truth of that day to his father.
Dreyfuss Was Furious
Even when he finally exposed the story to Dreyfuss, Harry downplayed the incident, making it seem like kind of joke. “He was furious,” Harry wrote about his dad’s reaction. He had to spend the rest of the evening ensuring him “that it wasn’t a big deal, and that I would be mortified if he did anything about it.”
Harry was eventually inspired to come out with his story once the accusations against Harvey Weinstein came to light – once the #MeToo movement took hold and all the other young men broke their own silence to accuse Spacey of sexual assault.
He First Denied, Then Apologized
Dreyfuss’s tweet (the one which triggered Teich) said: “I love my son @harrydreyfuss more than I could explain with all the words in the world,” he wrote. “And I am so incredibly proud of him right now.” As for Spacey’s lawyers, they reacted to Harry’s story.
Telling Buzzfeed, his lawyers affirmed: “Let me be clear, Mr. Spacey absolutely denies the allegations.” Spacey has since apologized, come out, and has been subjected to “treatment.” Others who accused Spacey included Rent actor Anthony Rapp.