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'Big Lebowski's' real-life Dude still abides

Fans of the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski” will never forget Jeff Bridges' classic performance as The Dude, an unemployed slacker living in Los Angeles. But they may be surprised to find out the Dude was based on a real dude.

The inspiration for the film's lead came from Los Angeleno Jeff Dowd, who still lives his laid-back lifestyle despite the movie's popularity. He's now the subject of a short documentary (called, naturally, "The Dude"). Filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig reveals Dowd’s younger years as an anti-war activist and also tracks his post-Lebowski life, as Dowd travels around the country speaking to fans.


“("Lebowski") has made me somewhat of an icon,” Dowd acknowledges while signing autographs for Dude impersonators at the Tampa Bay Lebowski Fest.

Despite his fame, it appears not too much else has changed in Dowd’s day-to-day living. The movie cuts from scenes of him downing a carton of half & half in the grocery store (as famously depicted in "Lebowski") to loafing around his apartment, disheveled and clad in boxers.

Perhaps most surprising is the footage of Dowd’s younger years. After fighting the government and resisting the draft in the Vietnam War, he spent a year in jail, then went on to market independent films. Dowd met Robert Redford in the early days of the actor's Sundance Film Festival, and connected with "Lebowski" directors Joel and Ethan Coen in 1984.

From there, The Dude became a legend.

“They just loved riffing on the name,” Dowd recalls of the Coens’ fascination. “We spent so much time together that they just started to pick up on some of my weird character traits and body language, which informed a lot of the (movie) character.”

Feuerzeig met Dowd in 1986 to discuss a script of his own, and never forgot the experience.

“I flew from NY to LA, rented a car, and pulled up to The Dude's dilapidated apartment/office on the "boardwalk" of Venice Beach,” he writes on his Vimeo page. “As if on cue, this Avery Schreiber-looking mop-topped behemoth clad in super-tight grape smuggling polyester shorts and a hideous floral Hawaiian shirt rolled up on roller blades and welcomed me to paradise.

"While I stood on his sagging balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean watching all the blonde bikini-clad beach girls in leg warmers skate by, the Dude ransacked his living room, overturning stacks of unread scripts, looking for my screenplay, which I'm still not convinced he'd read.”

But as the movie shows, The Dude still abides.

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