When he was a child, his family moved to Los Angeles and Dreyfuss was educated at San Fernando Valley State College.
He had tiny parts in The Graduate (67, Mike Nichols) and Valley of the Dolls (67, Mark Robson), but he showed a first sign of spirited arrogance in The Young Runaways (68, Arthur Dreifuss). After Hello Down There (69, Jack Arnold), he played Baby Face Nelson in Dillinger (73. John Milius).
In his rich years, he also appeared in The Apprenticeship of Daddy Kravitz (74, Ted Kotcheff); Inserts (76, John Byrum); Victory at Entebbe (76, Marvin J. Chomsky) for TV: The Big Fix (78, Jeremy Paul Kagan), which he also produced; The Competition (80, Joel Oliansky); and paralyzed from the neck down, but hyperactive above, in Whose Life Is It Anyway? (81. John Badliam).
He was away for a few years and when he returned he seemed older and more drawn: The Buddy System (84, Glenn Jordan) and Down and Out in Beverly Hills (86, Paul Mazursky). He was the narrator in Stand By Me (86. Rob Reiner) and at his best in the desperate comedy of Tin Men (87, Barry Levinson) and Stakeout (87, Badliam), which also drew upon his exceptional speed and precision. He was Streisand’s lawyer in Nuts (87, Martin Ritt) and a very broad actor in Moon Over Parador (88, Mazursky).
He was a gambler in Let It Ride (89. Joe Pytka) and a rather cheerless version of Spencer Tracv in Always (89, Spielberg). Then he did Postcards From the Edge (90, Nichols); Once Around (91. Lasse Hallstrom); the Player King in Rosencrantz and Guildcnstern Are Dead (91. Tom Stoppard);
What About Bob? (91, Frank Oz); and the officer who supported Alfred Dreyfuss (a distant relative) in Prisoner of Honor (91, Ken Russell) for cable TV. He also appeared in Lost in Yonkers (93, Martha Coolidge).
He keeps his status: Another Stakeout (93, Badham); Silent Fall (94, Bruce Beresford); The Last Word (94, Tony Spiridakis); the bad guy in The American President (95, Reiner); as the teacher in Mr Holland's Opus (95, Stephen Ilerek); the voice of the centipede in lames and the Ciant Peach (96, Ilenrv Selick); Mad Dog Time (96, Larry Bishop); Night Falls on Manhattan (97, Sidney Lumet); as Fagin in a TV Oliver Twist (97, Tony Bill); Krippenclorf’s Tribe (98, Todd Holland); as Lansky (99, John McNaughton) for TV; the president in Fail Safe (00, Stephen Frears); The Crew (00, Michael Dinner); The Old Man Who Read Love Stories (00, Rolf de Heer); Who Is Cletis Tout? (01, Chris Ver Wiel); in the TV series The Education of Max Bickford (01, Rod Holcomb); as Alexander Haig in The Day Reagan Was Shot (01, Ken Welsh Baker and Cyrus Nowrasteh); on TV in The Education of Max Bickford (01).
American Civil Liberties Union Screen Actors Guild, Equity Association, American Federation TV and Radio Artists, Motion Picture Academy Arts and Sciences.
He had won the Oscar for his show performance as a flashy, failed actor in The Goodbye Girl (77, Herbert Ross). He had been the central figure in the parade of American Graffiti (73, George Lucas), and the most appealing hero in fairs (75, Steven Spielberg). He had given his best performance as a Muncie man who refuses to deny that he has seen wonders in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (77, Spielberg). Then something happened, something made of vanity, drug involvement, overassertiveness and maybe the fact that Dreyfuss is happier as a character actor than as a great star.