Groundbreaker. Superstar. Bernie Focker. Whatever you know him as, there really is no single word that can capture the essence of Dustin Hoffman. A Hollywood mainstay for nearly six decades, Hoffman’s range as an actor is the stuff of legend, put on display time and time again in countless iconic roles. From comedies to dramas, action films to slow burns, Hoffman can do — and has done — it all.
But despite a laundry list of stage and screen accomplishments, the life and times of one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars has remained shrouded in mystery for the better part of 60 years. Now, however, the truth is out, and the unlikely details of Dustin Hoffman’s life show his rise to fame was far tougher than anyone imagined.
In fact, Hoffman had never really given much thought to an acting career as a child. He’d actually trained to become a classical pianist in his youth, and, during his first year at Santa Monica College, he studied medicine.
But after taking a theater class on a whim, Hoffman soon caught the acting bug. He left school after a year to pursue acting full time, though after breaking the news to his family, his aunt warned him, “You can’t be an actor. You are not good-looking enough.”
Still, that didn’t stop Hoffman (left) from landing a gig with the famed Pasadena Playhouse. Here, Hoffman became close friends with fellow acting legend Gene Hackman, and after two years, the pair made their way to New York City.
Rooming with Hackman and yet another future star in Robert Duval, Hoffman spent the next several years working odd jobs between acting roles, including a stint in Macy’s toy department. He also spent time studying with the Actors Studio and resolved to become a method actor.
After a series of small film and TV appearances, Hoffman scored rave reviews for his performance in Henry Livings’ play Eh? and landed his first movie role in 1967’s The Tiger Makes Out. The film was a moderate success, though for Hoffman, superstardom was just around the corner.
Despite passing him up for the lead in the Broadway musical The Apple Tree, director Mike Nichols pegged Hoffman as the perfect fit for his film The Graduate. The casting choice was considered risky by many, though the critics would soon be forced to eat their words.
Upon its debut, The Graduate was met with universal acclaim, and Hoffman even received an Academy Award nomination for his performance. His portrayal of the directionless Benjamin Braddock redefined the standards of a leading man in Hollywood, propelling the “plain-looking” Hoffman to worldwide fame.
John Dominis / LIFE Magazine
After the film’s success, Life Magazine wrote, “If Dustin Hoffman’s face were his fortune, he’d be committed to a life of poverty. However, his movie, The Graduate, was a box office hit, making him a major new star.” Hoffman didn’t exactly deny it.
He said of director Mike Nichols (center), “I don’t know of another instance of a director at the height of his powers who would take a chance and cast someone like me in that past. It took tremendous courage.” But then he made a curious decision.
Yet even with studios offering him major roles left and right, Hoffman turned many of them down, preferring to focus on his stage career instead. It wasn’t until critics returned with claims of Hoffman’s lack of ability that he decided to prove them wrong once again.
So, to earn a part in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy and earn a part in the film, Hoffman met the film’s director John Schlesinger in Times Square… while dressed up like a homeless person. Apparently, the character work paid off.
Because as conman “Ratso” Rizzo, Hoffman shed his quaffed hair and prep-school button down for a dirty suit jacket and cigarette-stained smile. He received his second Oscar nomination for this performance, proving that he was more than just a one-trick pony.
The 1970s saw Hoffman’s versatility on full display as he played everything from a foul-mouthed comedian (Lenny) to a tireless journalist (All The President’s Men) to even a running enthusiast embroiled in a Nazi conspiracy (Marathon Man). Though this hot streak almost never started.
“I didn’t think the script [for Lenny] was strong enough,” he said, “and I wasn’t sure I was the one to play the role. Later, I began to feel an affinity with him, a realization that there was a lot of Lenny Bruce in me. My wife felt it too.”
In 1979, Hoffman starred opposite Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer, a dramatic tale of a couple’s divorce. The film earned five Oscars at the 1980 Academy Awards and gave Hoffman his first win for Best Actor. Both actors drew on tragic moments in their own lives to nail the parts.
Both he and Streep could put on such incredible performances, Hoffman said, because they were both living the film: he was going through a divorce while Streep was still suffering from the loss of a lover, John Cazale.
Hoffman’s success continued into the ’80s with a memorable performance in 1982’s Tootsie, earning him his fifth Academy Award nomination. Hoffman also made a grand return to the stage in ’84, starring in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
In fact, Hoffman’s turn as Willy Loman was so well-received that he went on to star in the 1985 TV movie of the same name as well. For this portrayal, Hoffman won the 1985 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor as well as a Golden Globe.
But Hoffman’s biggest success of the ’80s came with his starring role as autistic savant Ray Babbitt in 1988’s Rain Man. The film earned Hoffman his second Best Actor award, yet he almost never had the chance to play the part.
Because initially he was supposed to play Charlie. Hoffman, however, knew he had to play Raymond. When he kept insisting that he take the part, producers finally relented. The rest was history.
Following memorable performances in Hook (1991) and Outbreak (1995) and an Oscar-nominated turn in Wag The Dog (1997), Hoffman received the AFI Life Achievement Award for his contributions to film in 1999. At 62 years old, most actors would’ve called it a career — Hoffman, however, was just getting started.
The ’00s padded his resume with box-office hits like Finding Neverland (2004), Meet the Fockers (2004), and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2008). Following Mr. Magorium, however, Hoffman found himself at a crossroads.
20th Century Fox
Despite performing voice work in the past, the veteran actor was hesitant when offered the role of Master Shifu in 2008’s Kung Fu Panda. He eventually agreed to the part, and his Annie Award-winning performance opened up a whole new world of opportunities for the 2010s.
John Russo / Dreamworks
After reprising the role of Shifu in Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), the 74-year-old Hoffman decided to try his hand at directing in 2012. His BBC comedy-drama Quartet premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and earned positive reviews, though this wouldn’t be the highlight of his decade.
In 2015, Hoffman received an Emmy Award for his performance in Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot, a BBC television film based on the classic novel. He earned further acclaim two years later for the Netflix film The Meyerowitz Stories, which received a four-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival.
For Hoffman, the 2020s seem just as promising, with the 82-year-old already slated to star in several films in 2020 alone. His old pal Gene Hackman is sure to be cheering him on from the sidelines as he does — after all, his longtime friend has also had quite the career himself.
As a child, Hackman was not the kind to be indecisive — he knew exactly what he wanted. In fact, by the time he was 10 years old, he was already dead set on becoming an actor.
2. Sadly, despite his determination, Hackman had a rather rough start in life. His father packed up shop and abruptly left when the star was only a young teen, waving at him as he sped off.
3. To make matters worse, in 1962 when Hackman was in his early 30s, his mother died tragically, burning in a fire that she had accidentally set with her own lit cigarette.
4. Hackman was so good at acting that he actually convinced the US military he was older than he was in order to enlist in the Marines at the young age of only 16.
5. To pursue his dream of acting, Hackman joined a famous playhouse called The Pasadena Playhouse. Unfortunately, he bombed so badly that he received a mere 1.3/10 score — one of the lowest the theater had ever bestowed.
6. However, there was one silver lining. While at the Pasadena Playhouse, Hackman was able to connect with Dustin Hoffman. The two became close friends before either of them had made it big.
Seth Poppel – Yearbook Library
7. In fact, the pair was so chummy that when Hoffman was down and out for a period, Hackman even allowed him to crash at his NYC apartment. It was only supposed to be for a few nights…
3 Arts Entertainment – It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
8. Unfortunately, Hoffman took Hackman’s generosity a little too far and ended up overstaying his welcome in the tiny one-bedroom apartment. Hackman eventually had to give him the boot, but at least he helped him find a new place.
United Artists – Midnight Cowboy
9. It took more than a couple acting classes for Hackman to make himself a Hollywood name. He worked as a doorman at one point; when a former sergeant saw him, he was so ashamed he took it as an opportunity to change his life’s direction.
Sam Golanski – Business Insider
10. When Hackman finally did “make it,” he was a hot commodity. He was even the first choice to play Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch, a show that would have been much different had he accepted the part.
ABC – The Brady Bunch
11. Another famous (albeit much darker) role that Hackman turned down was Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, a part that was eventually given to the iconic Anthony Hopkins. Again, we’ll never know what might have been.
Orion Pictures – The Silence of the Lambs
12. While he was the preferred choice for many classics, he was actually only the sixth in line for one of his most quintessential roles. Yes, five others were asked to play Popeye Doyle in The French Connection before Hackman was offered the part.
13. Although he is most acclaimed for his acting chops, Hackman actually penned a good number of books as well. Most of the novels centered around adventure and historical escapades.
Flickr – Drew XXX
14. Hackman has seemingly been retired for a while now, but up until his 70s, he continued to act in an average of two films per year. That’s impressive for anyone, but especially for someone of that age.
15. Speaking of books, Hackman is a big fan of John Grisham, a prolific writer most famous for his legal thrillers. Hackman has acted in three separate movies based on Grisham’s books.
16. Talk about a bromance: after years of being friends, Hackman and Dustin Hoffman finally got to appear on screen together in the 2003 flick Runaway Jury. The film did well, and the pals’ onscreen chemistry was palpable.
Regency Enterprises – Runaway Jury
17. Hackman has enough star power that he is able to turn down movies even when they’re sure to be successful. Among the films he’s rejected parts in are Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws.
Universal Pictures – Jaws
18. This A-lister doesn’t just flip a coin when deciding which movies he wants to take on, though. He has a formula, actually. There are two things he considers upfront: the script, and the paycheck. Makes sense, Gene.
Flickr – Robbie Biller
19. Turns out gentle Gene isn’t always so nice. It’s reported that he screamed at Wes Anderson on the set of The Royal Tenenbaums, telling him to “pull up your pants and act like a man.”
20. In fact, the tension got so bad that actor Bill Murray had to step in as Anderson’s on-set protector from Hackman. He’d stand at a distance when scenes were being filmed, trying to ensure that nothing went too awry.
Doug Duran – Bay Area News Group
Bill may have been the peace officiant in this particular circumstance, but the seasoned actor has had his fair share of demands in the past as well — as have plenty of other A-list actors. Some of them are quite baffling.
American Zoetrope – Lost in Translation
1. Bill Murray: Here’s a scary fact — Bill Murray only joined Ghostbusters at the last minute. Sensing he had the upper hand, he took on the part only if Columbia Pictures would also fund his passion project, an adaption of the novel The Razor’s Edge.
2. George Clooney: While Clooney is famous for his philanthropic efforts, he’s not afraid to spend a little money on himself. His contract for Gravity stipulated that his trailer needed to come with a beach hut, a hot tub, a personal garden, and a full basketball court.
3. Lindsay Lohan: Her sway has certainly faded in the United States, but it seems she’s still got it over in Russia. In order to appear on a Russian talk show, Lohan negotiated an $860,000 fee, a suite at the Ritz Carlton, and a meeting with Vladimir Putin.
4. Johnny Depp: He’s made a fortune from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but ol’ Jack Sparrow didn’t even bother to learn his lines. Instead, he had a sound engineer feed him lines through an earpiece so he could simply repeat them seconds later.
5. Wesley Snipes: He played a half-human, half vampire in Blade: Trinity, but Snipes was a complete monster behind the scenes. He spent most of his time in his trailer smoking marijuana, and only communicated through an elaborate series of Post-It notes.
6. Harrison Ford: Most performers would love to stick with a blockbuster franchise as long as possible, but Ford had some kind of death wish with Star Wars. He unsuccessfully tried to get George Lucas to kill off Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
7. Samuel L. Jackson: Ford wasn’t the only actor who used the force to get his way. Before taking on Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels, Jackson insisted upon a purple lightsaber — the only of its kind — so that he would be recognizable in crowded scenes.
8. Paris Hilton: Hilton hoped that a cameo appearance in The Other Guys would revive her job prospects. However, crazy demands like bottles of Grey Goose vodka and a tank of live lobsters made her a nightmare to work with. Her scene ended up getting scrapped.
MTV / Ian Davidson
9. Gary Busey: In the 2003 family film Quigley, Busey played an amoral businessman who gets reincarnated as a little dog. Naturally, the movie has a scene that takes place in heaven. But Busey, who once had a near-death experience, claimed that real heaven looked nothing like the set and forced the crew to rebuild it according to his memory.
10. Sharon Stone: Everyone has their own creative process, but Stone’s favorite way to get in character is to buy a complete wardrobe for each role — all on the film’s budget, of course.
She’s also notorious for forcing directors to communicate with her through her agent. Maybe that prevents her from getting too wrapped up in her part.
11. Mike Myers: Chris Farley was Originally meant to voice Shrek, but after his untimely passing his SNL pal Mike Myers replaced him. Late in the game, however, Myers realized Shrek needed a Scottish accent and held up animation to completely rework his part.
12. Daniel Day-Lewis: Perhaps the most extreme method actor in history, Day-Lewis insisted on being called ‘Mr. President’ off-camera during the filming of Lincoln. Also, while depicting a painter in My Left Foot, he never left his wheelchair and made the crew feed him every meal.
13. Will Ferrell: While filming and promoting 2008’s Semi-Pro, this comic actor astoundingly required wacky objects like a motorized scooter and a 20-foot inflatable tree on wheels. Maybe these toys helped Ferrell work out his funny bone, or he could have just been pulling a prank on his producers…
14. Will Smith: Men in Black III filmed primarily in New York City, just a short distance away from Will Smith’s apartment. But that didn’t stop Smith from demanding a two-story, luxury trailer that cost $2 million to build. Maybe he couldn’t make it home because he kept getting his memory wiped.
15. Arnold Schwarzenegger: Though he made good on his promise to be back for Terminator 3, Schwarzenegger didn’t make it easy for the production team. He insisted on a three-bedroom suite, a private limousine, and, of course, his very own gym.
16. Lena Headey and Jerome Flynn: Better known as Cersei Lannister and Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, these Game of Thrones stars were romantically attached long before they set foot on Westeros. Apparently, their split was as ugly as the Red Wedding, because they refuse to be on set at the same time.
17. Justin Timberlake: Even though Timberlake is ready to rock your body, he has no interest in catching any of your germs. No matter what project he is working on, Timberlake has an assistant on hand to wipe down any doorknob that he is about to touch.
18. Jack Nicholson: Most actors would do anything to work with Martin Scorsese, but Nicholson had some peculiar requests before he joined The Departed. For one thing, he made his character more evil by including a scene where he does cocaine off a prostitute’s backside. As a huge Lakers fan, he also banned all Celtics memorabilia from the set.
19. Lady Gaga: Whether she’s backstage or on set, Gaga has a long list of goodies she needs to stuff her poker face. Aside from bottles of wine, veggie hot dogs, and humidifiers, she requires an entire smoothie station to follow her around.
Obviously, hydration is very important to Gaga. So much so that she requires 56 water bottles in her dressing rooms: 28 icy cold, 28 room temperature. Who can say whether Gaga has let fame get to her head, or if she was born this way?
Lady Gaga / Instagram
20. Beyonce: Based on the notoriously unrivaled work ethic of Queen Bey, you’d think her rider would be lengthy. But she simply asks for a room large enough for a football team and a generously seasoned baked chicken.
21. Drake: The child actor turned rapper has had many years to prune his rider to include the essentials: EZ Wider rolling papers and Dutch Master Presidente cigars.
22. Motley Crue: Their wilder days are behind them, but Vince Neil and the boys still know how to party. They request a 12-foot boa constrictor, creamy peanut butter, and the location of the nearest AA meeting.
24. Britney Spears: When in London, do as the Londoners do. To the Pop Princess, that means demanding a framed photo of Princess Diana. Brit also has a $5,000 fee to each call made to her dressing room.
Magic Bullet Media
25. Rihanna: Most big-name stars keep their requests lowkey. But Rih wants a large couch, nonleather, animal print pillows without sequins, freshly cleaned carpeting, and Babybel cheeses.
26. Celine Dion: Getting ever closer to becoming a fully fledged angel, Celine calls for “the best local children’s choir available,” as well as pizza and sandwiches for the pint-sized singers and their guardians.
Las Vegas Weekly
27. Katy Perry: Ambiance is key in Katy’s room. She asks for “draped” soft pink or cream fabrics, two egg chairs, one with an ottoman, and flowers (specifically, white and purple hydrangeas, pink and white roses, and peonies — no carnations)!
28. John Mayer: Powering those funky guitar licks? Sugary cereals. Count Chocula is John’s ideal, but any kids’ favorite will do. To combat the cavities, he needs 4 soft head toothbrushes, Listerine, 2 tubes of mint toothpaste, and 2 tins of Altoids.
John Mayer / Instagram
29. Adele: Velvety voiced Adele prefers cigarettes, frosty beers, and sandwiches sans tomato. Meanwhile, any famous pals scoring free tickets are required to donate a minimum of $20 to Sands, a stillbirth charity.
30. Pharrell Williams: This dire request is mentioned twice in his rider, so there’s no excuse for forgetting a framed photo of astronomer Carl Sagan in his dressing room.
31. Eminem: Marshall Mathers releases a lot of anger when spitting his rhymes, so to maintain some semblance of sanity, his dressing room needs to be a peaceful retreat. Two words: koi pond.
32. Justin Bieber: Based on his normal uniform, the packs of white lo-rise socks and t-shirts on the Biebs’ rider make sense. The reasoning behind the multiple sizes requested, however, remains a mystery.
33. Moby: For some reason, he asks that ten pairs of underwear be waiting in his dressing room at all times. Maybe his shows are just that unpredictable.
Moby / Facebook
34. Mariah Carey: You know the biggest diva in showbiz had to deliver on an outrageous rider. Mimi needs a chewing gum attendant, bendy straws (for sipping Cristal), and no fewer than 20 white kittens.
35. Alicia Keys: She requires a lot of liquids to keep up her pipes in perfect pitch. Specifically? She asks for quarts of vanilla soy milk and chocolate almond milk, cranberry and apple juices, Vitamin Water, and a box of Throat Coat tea.
36. Foo Fighters: Their demands are simple, just a whole lot of bacon… and 24 new and washed bath towels. If they are unwashed, and they can tell, they reserve the right to punish the offender with a wedgie.
37. David Hasselhoff: To ensure the only person hassling the Hoff is actually the Hoff, he asks for lifesize cardboard cut out of himself in his dressing room.
38. Coldplay: The most mild-mannered rockstars couldn’t help but make their rider sort of boring. Coldplay’s only request is for postcards of the cities they’re visiting to send back home to their kids.
39. Barbra Streisand: Babs is ever the Funny Girl, requesting a commode full of rose petals. So everyone can see her hilarious joke play out, she needs”torchiere-style” floor lamps.
40. Madonna: The Material Girl forgoes the flowers; she requests a fresh toilet seat on every throne she graces. She keeps busy on the can since she also needs a minimum of 20 international phone lines.
41. Arianna Grande: She sings about moving “Side to Side,” but Arianna strictly favors her left. In her rider, she’s only allowed to be photographed from the left, and she firmly enforces the rule.
42. Dixie Chicks: The country crooners ask for tee time passes, with carts, at a local par 72 championship-level golf course in each of their stops. Who knew “Wide Open Spaces” was actually an ode to the green.
43. Paul McCartney: If you want to visit Paul’s dressing room, have a machete on hand to navigate the elaborate vegetation of 4 six-foot-tall “regular” plants and 19 six-foot-tall “leafy green plants” he requires.
44. Trent Reznor: The lead singer of Nine Inch Nails needs two boxes of cornstarch with a note attached announcing that they are “VERY IMPORTANT.” Trent might have to thicken a stew before dashing on stage.
45. LL Cool J: When your name is an acronym for “Ladies Love Cool James” your rider has to be a bit saucy. The rapper asks for a small bottle of Johnson and Johnson baby oil and 24 long-stemmed roses.
46. Prince: The late legend required a personal onsite physician to administer B-12 injections before taking the stage. Also, his room had to be covered in plastic wrap that could only be unfurled by Prince’s hands.