Oscar–winning actor Dustin Hoffman has earned acclaim for his work in such films as ‘The Graduate’ (1967), ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979) and ‘Rain Man’ (1988).
Born in Los Angeles in 1937, Dustin Hoffman began acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. He landed his breakout role in The Graduate (1967), and earned Academy Awards for his performances in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Rain Man (1988). The actor has also lent his voice to such animated hits as Kung Fu Panda (2008), and made his directorial debut in 2012 with Quartet.
Dustin Lee Hoffman was born in Los Angeles, California, on August 8, 1937, to Lillian and Harry Hoffman. Although he is Jewish, Hoffman and his brother were raised in a relatively secular household. When asked about the family’s observance of the holidays, Hoffman once said, “About the time I realized we were Jews, maybe when I was about 10, I went to the delicatessen and ordered bagels and draped them around the tree.”
Hoffman’s acting career began at age 19, when he dropped out of college to pursue the stage at the Pasadena Playhouse. There, Dustin Hoffman befriended another young actor, Gene Hackman. Eventually, the two would move to New York City together, looking for work in television and in off-Broadway plays.
An unconventional-looking actor for the time period, Hoffman had difficulty getting roles in an industry primarily looking for pretty faces. To make ends meet, he took odd jobs and the occasional bit role. He later recounted, “I lived below the official American poverty line until I was 31.”
Slowly but surely, Dustin Hoffman began building a strong reputation through smaller roles. Word of mouth soon reached Hollywood, and in 1966 Mike Nichols invited the young actor to do a screen test for his upcoming movie, The Graduate. Beating out Hollywood heavyweights like Robert Redford and Charles Grodin, Hoffman was stunned when he received news that he had gotten the lead role in the film. The enormously popular movie changed the landscape of American cinema in the 1960s, and would in turn make Hoffman an unlikely star.
Before returning to the big screen, the newly minted Academy Award nominee acted in a few Broadway productions, one of which earned him a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. In 1969, Dustin Hoffman struck gold again with the gritty Midnight Cowboy, in which he played the part of Ratso Rizzo, a homeless man in New York City. This performance garnered him a second Oscar nomination.
On a roll in the 1970s, Hoffman starred in several acclaimed movies. He finally won an Academy Award for his performance in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), with co-star Meryl Streep also nabbing an Oscar. When asked about working with the talented actress, Hoffman said, “She’s an ox when it comes to acting. She eats words for breakfast. Working with her is like playing tennis with Chris Evert—she keeps trying to hit the perfect ball.”
In 1982, playing yet another antihero, Dustin Hoffman starred in Tootsie as Michael Dorsey, a down-and-out actor who must dress up as a woman to get a part on a daytime soap opera. Following a brief but successful return to the stage in Death of a Salesman and The Merchant of Venice, Hoffman starred in the Hollywood smash Rain Man (1988) alongside Tom Cruise. Hoffman’s portrayal of an autistic genius earned him a second Academy Award and remains one of his most iconic performances.
The 1990s brought appearances a series of big-budget movies that proved largely disappointing at the box office. Hoffman’s next critically acclaimed role wouldn’t come around until 1997 with the political satire Wag the Dog. Playing an unscrupulous Hollywood executive out to fool the public into thinking the country was at war, he scored yet another Oscar nomination.
In 2004, Hoffman again exhibited his comedic prowess when he starred with Lily Tomlin in an offbeat movie about a detective team that solves existential crises, I Heart Huckabees. Further cementing his new direction, he went on to appear in the Ben Stiller comedies Meet the Fockers (2004) and Little Fockers (2010), and the children’s fantasy Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007).
Hoffman continues to star in blockbuster films like Stranger than Fiction (2006), but also seeks out new and different projects, such as lending his voice to the animated children’s movies Kung Fu Panda and The Tale of Despereaux (both 2008). He made his directorial debut in 2012 with Quartet, and in 2014 he joined the ensemble cast of Jon Favreau’s critically acclaimed Chef.
With his characteristic dry humor, Hoffman once mused, “One thing about being successful is that I stopped being afraid of dying. Once you’re a star you’re dead already. You’re embalmed.”
Apart from his successful professional work, Hoffman found time to marry Anne Byrne in May 1969. He adopted her daughter, Karina, from a previous marriage, and in 1970 their second daughter, Jenna, was born. After more than 10 years of marriage, Hoffman and Anne divorced in 1980. Soon after, he married attorney Lisa Gottsegen. They would go on to have four children: Jacob Edward, Rebecca Lillian, Maxwell Geoffrey and Alexandra Lydia.
In addition to his Academy Awards, Hoffman received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1999, and was among the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012.
Hoffman was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, but no specifics relating to the illness were disclosed. That August, his publicist reported that the actor had undergone successful surgery and was taking preventative treatments to address his condition.
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