Dreyfuss moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was nine. There he began acting in school productions and at the Beverly Hills Jewish Community Centre. He attended San Fernando Valley State College, but was expelled. Not wanting to be drafted for Vietnam, he registered as a conscientious objector.
During this time, Dreyfuss started getting a few acting jobs on network television series. He had his first film role in 1967's 'The Graduate', but did not get his first big break until he played Baby Face Nelson, in the bloody biopic 'Dillinger' in 1973. A memorable leading role in George Lucas' 'American Graffiti' earned Dreyfuss critical acclaim.
In 1975, the actor's career exploded, when he starred as an arrogant shark expert, in Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws'. He worked for Spielberg again two years later, in 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'. Further success followed that same year with romantic comedy, 'The Goodbye Girl'. His performance won him an Oscar, making him, at the age of twenty nine, the youngest performer ever to receive the Best Actor honour. This record was broken in 2003, when Adrien Brody won the award for 'The Pianist'.
Unfortunately, none of Dreyfuss' following films were successful, and matters were worsened by his reported drug use and Hollywood party antics; in 1982, he was involved in a car accident and arrested for possession of cocaine.
Dreyfuss recovered, and after appearing in the rarely seen 'Buddy System', made a big comeback in Paul Mazursky's hit comedy, 'Down and Out in Beverly Hills' (1986). He went on to appear in numerous films of varying quality. Highlights included 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead', and 'Postcards From the Edge' (1990).
Over the next five years, he starred in movies including 'Once Around', television film 'Prisoner of Honor', 'What About Bob?', 'Another Stakeout' and 'The American President'. The latter saw him star alongside major names including Michael Douglas and Annette Bening as a senator.
In 1996, Dreyfuss played one of his finest roles, as a high school music teacher, in 'Mr. Holland's Opus'. The role earned him another Oscar nomination.
The next year saw him appear in 'Night Falls on Manhattan', which was followed by a role as Fagin in a television movie adaptation of Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist'. Following further appearances in a number of movies, including 'Krippendorf's Tribe' (1998) and 'The Crew' (2000), Dreyfuss was nominated for Film Critics Circle of Australia Award for Best Actor for his work on 'The Old Man Who Read Love Stories'.
He continued this positive awards run with his next two projects, picking up a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for television drama 'The Education of Max Bickford' in 2001. As well as winning a Satellite Award for Best Actor for his role in made-for-television movie 'The Day Reagan Was Shot', he received another Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for his role as US secretary of state Alexander Haig.
Over the next decade Dreyfuss had roles in films including 'Coast to Coast', director Wolfgang Petersen's 'Poseidon' in 2006, Oliver Stone's biographical film 'W.', which was based on the life and presidency of George W. Bush in 2008, and 2010 3-D comedy horror 'Piranha 3D'.
In early 2009, he made his stage debut in Kevin Spacey's play 'Complicit' at the Old Vic Theatre in London, which led to some controversy as the actor was seen with an earpiece, suggesting he had not learnt his lines in time.
In the same year, he was also a guest voice in the animated comedy 'Family Guy' and lent his voice to 'Word of Promise: Complete Audio Bible' in which he portrayed Moses.
Dreyfuss returned to the small screen in 2010 playing Warren Schiff, who was main character Nancy's high school teacher to whom she had lost her virginity, in 'Weeds'. He also appeared in four episodes of the TV show 'Parenthood' in 2011.
He next appeared in the TV show 'Coma' in which a doctor becomes suspicious after patients start falling into comas.
Dreyfuss suffers from bipolar disorder, which Stephen Fry interviewed him about for documentary 'Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive' in 2006. He has been married three times.
Dreyfuss married writer-producer Jeramie Rain in 1983. They had daughter Emily in 1983 and son Benjamin in 1986, followed by Harry in 1990. They divorced in 1995, after which he wed Janelle Lacey in 1999, divorcing in 2005.
He wedded Russian-born Svetlana Erokhin, his current wife, in 2006.