The DM Zone was live from the Sedona International Film Festival with a series of interviews of celebrities, film makers, writers and producers. Here is one of the interviews with Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss on the importance of teaching civics in our schools.

Richard Dreyfuss is an American actor known for his roles in Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, American Graffiti and The Goodbye Girl.

Richard Dreyfuss was born in Brooklyn in 1947, and grew up in Los Angeles. He made waves with his role in the film American Graffiti and hits like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind followed, along with an Oscar for The Goodbye Girl. Drug addiction derailed his career, but Dreyfuss made a comeback in the 1980s. In addition to acting, he is a vocal advocate for individual civic rights.

Early Life

Richard Dreyfuss was born Richard Stephen Dreyfus—he added the second ‘s’ later in life—in Brooklyn, New York on October 29, 1947. Dreyfuss spent his early childhood in Bayside, Queens before moving to Los Angeles at age 9. He attended Beverly Hills High School with Rob Reiner and Albert Brooks, and acted in community plays as a teenager.

Dreyfuss briefly attended San Fernando Valley State College—now California State University, Northridge—but was booted after starting a contentious argument with a teacher. Because he registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, he spent two years fulfilling an alternate term of service as a hospital clerk. When his time was up, he found an agent and began appearing in TV sitcoms like Bewitched and Gidget, as well as performing in Broadway and off-Broadway plays.

Acting Career

Dreyfuss’s first film role was an uncredited part at the end of Valley of the Dolls, followed by a single line in The Graduate in 1967. The next year he nabbed a more substantial role in The Young Runaways. After portraying Baby Face Nelson in 1973’s Dillinger, his breakout performance came in the hit American Graffiti, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best actor.

His star was rising, and the mid-1970s saw Dreyfuss in a series of hits: He appeared in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which was the highest grossing Canadian film of its time. Steven Spielberg contributed to Dreyfuss’s rapid rise to fame by casting him as the cocky shark expert in Jaws, and then as a lineman who sees a UFO in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Then in 1978, Dreyfuss won an Academy Award for best actor for the romantic comedy The Goodbye Girl. He was just 29, and, at the time, the youngest actor to ever receive the honor. His first production credit came the same year with The Big Fix.

By this time, Dreyfuss had become known as a party boy, heavily into alcohol and cocaine. In 1982, he crashed his car into a tree, and was arrested for possession of coke and prescription pills. Felony charges against him were dropped after he successfully completed rehab, but his career took several years to rebound. He worked sporadically until his comeback performance in the 1986 movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and with additional hits like Stakeout, Always with Holly Hunter and What About Bob?, he made his way back to stardom.

In 1995, Dreyfuss was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his performance in the musical drama Mr. Holland’s Opus, but his film career began to fade. He turned to television, and in 2001 he produced and acted in a TV series, The Education of Max Bickford. Although it was well-received by critics, the show only aired for one season.

More recently, Dreyfuss portrayed Vice President Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone’s film W, about the life of George W. Bush, and appeared on the TV shows Weeds and Parenthood. While continuing to act, Dreyfuss has also become politically active and spends his time championing individual rights. He appeared in a 2007 documentary on youth voting, 18 in ’08, and encourages teaching American history to children in elementary school.

Personal Life

Dreyfuss lives with bipolar disorder, a fact he discusses in the documentary Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. He has been married three times, and has three children with his first wife, Jeramie Rain. His second marriage to Janelle Lacy lasted six years, and in 2006 he married Svetlana Erokhin. He resides in San Diego, California.
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