This popular entertainer is part of a select group of actors who frequently accept supporting roles and whose names are often more easily recognized by viewers than those of performers in starring roles. Bruce Dern, a veteran character actor, celebrates his birthday each June 4. In his eighth decade, he is still making films and is the father of actress Laura Dern.
For Midwesterners like me, Dern’s somewhat nasal speech still suggests his origins. He was born on June 4, 1936 in Chicago and grew up in the affluent North Shore suburb of Winnetka, according to biography.com. Because he rebelled against the upper-class life his family enjoyed, his parents sent him to a Connecticut boarding school.
Dern finished high school at home, then enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. He dropped out to pursue acting.
Transition to Acting
Bruce Dern studied at the Actors Studio in New York with Lee Strasberg and made his first appearance as a stage actor in The Shadow of a Gunman on Broadway in 1958. He got his first movie role two years later in Wild River. He moved to Los Angeles a few years later, where he appeared in small television roles, typically acting as a villain or odd character.
By 1969, the actor was landing roles in noteworthy films like They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? with Jane Fonda. My first memory of Bruce Dern came from his 1978 performance as a Vietnam War veteran in Coming Home. The effort earned him a nomination for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.
Despite the fact that he often took supporting roles, after Coming Home, movie and television fans recognized Dern not only by his face, but also by his name. His career slowed in the ’80s and ’90s, then took off again in the TV drama Big Love, where he played the easy-to-hate role of father to the character Bill Henrickson, played by Bill Paxton. His performance brought him a nomination for an Emmy.
Thanks to outstanding reviews, Bruce Dern was nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the 2013 film Nebraska. His character, Woody, undertakes a quest to claim a lottery prize after receiving a notice in the mail that he had won it. His effort also earned him the honor of being named Best Actor at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Dern has been married three times. He currently resides with third wife Andrea Beckett, whom he married in 1969.
Happy birthday, Bruce Dern.