When actor Richard Dreyfuss crashed his Mercedes-Benz two-seater on Benedict Canyon Dr. in Los Angeles in 1982, authorities noted the actor would probably have been killed had he not been wearing a seat belt.
But here’s the thing. In those days, Dreyfuss never wore a seat belt. As he tells Ron Rosenbaum in the new issue of Smithsonian magazine, the incident – all these years later – still has a mystical quality:
“I was a famous movie star; I was rich and I was acting like a low-down dirty dog. I was taking drugs; I was sleeping with people’s wives; I was out of control. And one night, at the home of a studio head, I screamed obscenities in her face and then left and got into my two-seater convertible Mercedes with the top down and drove down the street. I never put a seat belt on, I never had. And I woke up with the Benedict Canyon on my face; the car was above me, and I was strapped in by a safety belt I didn’t put on. And I knew my life had changed.”
He’s sort of saying he was saved by a personal angel who led him to the light.
“Yeah. And I was arrested for possession of a little bit of coke and two or three Percodan tablets. And I had flipped my car—I had slammed into one of the big trees on Benedict and half the divider slammed into the thing, the car rolled, and I woke up…”
“And you had your safety belt on.”
“I didn’t put it on myself.”
Dreyfuss has his most trenchant role in quite some time, starring as Bernie Madoff in the upcoming ABC-TV miniseries. In the interview, he also shares some interesting thoughts on how he approached the part.