Three decades later, Richard Dreyfuss still attributes both magic and meaning to his sobriety date: Nov. 19, 1982.
“It's my daughter's birthday, and there's more magic attached to that sentence than I can possibly begin to tell you. But suffice to it say that one year ... before my daughter was born, I was upside down with my head on the pavement with a Mercedes Benz on top of me. And I was held in by a safety belt that I hadn't put on,” Dreyfuss told an Oklahoma City audience Tuesday night.
“I spent the next 10 days in absolute and complete denial. I am an expert on denial, and I did my level best to not see the inevitable consequence of my acts. Except I couldn't shake the image of this little girl that was in my mind's eye, and every day she got clearer and clearer until on the 19th I said, enough. And she disappeared and didn't reappear for one year. She was my daughter.”
The Oscar winner was the keynote speaker Tuesday night at the Oklahoma Outreach Foundation's “An Evening of Courage & Inspiration.” The charity dinner at the Skirvin Hotel raised $212,000 for the nonprofit organization, which supports treatment and recovery programs for state teens coping with dependency on alcohol and other drugs.
Best known for his roles in an array of movies including “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “American Graffiti,” the actor mixed powerful insights gained from his past struggles with cocaine and fiery convictions of his present crusade to restore citizenship and civility to American life and politics.
After telling the story about his 1982 car wreck and vision of his future daughter, Dreyfuss, 63, led the crowd of about 400 people, including a number of graduates of the foundation's Mission Academy recovery high school, in reciting the Serenity Prayer.
“That is the first, most important, most clear spiritual revelation of my life. It changed me from one thing to another and made me better,” he said. “God has always fascinated me, as either fact or metaphor. God works.”
In 1978, Dreyfuss, then 30, became the youngest man to win the Oscar for best actor with his turn as a struggling thespian in the romantic comedy “The Goodbye Girl.” That record stood until 2003, when 29-year-old Adrien Brody won the best actor Oscar for “The Pianist.”
Dreyfuss said he developed his drug habit for “many of the reasons that young people have been doing stupidly risky things forever.”