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Before ‘Crazy Heart’ and ‘The Big Lebowski’, a Young Jeff Bridges Captivated Fans 

The ruggedly handsome actor is Hollywood’s renaissance man

Jeff Bridges is only 74, yet remarkably, nearly 70 of those years have involved his acting career. But the Big Lebowski actor, known for his rugged good looks and laid-back personality, is about as ‘un-Hollywood’ as it gets. For starters, he’s been married to his wife Sue for nearly 47 years.

Now a grandfather who enjoys ceramics, photography, and music, Bridges battled cancer in recent years—but it hasn’t slowed him down a bit. Right out of remission, the star went straight into shooting the FX series The Old Man, which only ran for one season.

It’s ok, though, because Bridges has had plenty of success, starting with an Oscar nomination in his 20s for The Last Picture Show—only the third professional movie he’d ever been in. While he didn’t win that time, nearly 40 years later, he took home the Best Actor trophy for his moving performance in the 2009 movie Crazy Heart.

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Jeff Bridges (1987)Getty

While he had plenty of roles over the years and an Academy Award on his shelf, the 1998 Coen Brothers’ comedy The Big Lebowski would end up being his claim to fame. Another claim to fame is that Bridges’ was born into Hollywood royalty, as the son of actor Lloyd Bridges and actress Dorothy Bridges.

Little known fact: he’s also Kurt Russell’s cousin. Not much of a surprise, considering the resemblance. Bridges has even joked he’s signed autographs as Kurt, and no one batted an eye.

Read on for a timeline of Jeff Bridges’ early career and the roles that catapulted him to fame.

Early days: the 1950s

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Jeff Bridges in ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1970)Getty

Jeff Bridges was born to actor Lloyd and his wife Dorothy on December 4, 1949, after his parents lost his brother Garrett to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). As the middle child of three, with both his parents being actors, he would inevitably follow in their footsteps. Yet, unlike many Hollywood scions, Bridges carved his own path, eschewing the trappings of fame for a commitment to his craft.

Bridges debuted in his father’s television show Sea Hunt when he was only 8. Jeff and his brother, actor Beau Bridges, would continue to appear in Sea Hunt for its three-year run from 1958 to 1961. They would also appear in their father’s next project, The Lloyd Bridges show from 1962-1963, and then Jeff would score a supporting role alongside his father in 1965 in an episode of The Loner. He was just 15 years old.

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Jeff Bridges in ‘Thunderbolt And Lightfoot’ (1974)Getty

Despite this, Bridges has said he wasn’t sold on the idea of a life in entertainment due to anxiety about it and his love for other things like ceramics and paintings and “not wanting to do” what his parents did. According to the actor, he wasn’t totally sure about his career choice until he was “about 10 movies in.”

A young Jeff Bridges in the 1960s and 1970s

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Jeff Bridges in ‘Against All Odds’ (1984)Getty

After finishing high school, the actor would leave Los Angeles to study acting at the famed Herbert Berghof Studio in New York City. He landed several small roles before his breakthrough role in the 1971 Peter Bogdanovich film The Last Picture Show, which would garner an Oscar nod. Just three years later, he’d again earn recognition from The Academy for his portrayal of a thief in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

For the remainder of the 1970s, Bridges would show what a versatile actor he was with roles in King Kong, Stay Hungry alongside Sally Field, and Winter Kills. It was in the mid-70s that he would meet his wife Sue while shooting a forgettable film called Rancho Deluxe in Montana. “And that was it, love at first sight. Boom. Hit me like a ton of bricks,” he told The Guardian in 2022. They married in 1977.

Career in the 1980s and 1990s

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Jeff Bridges in ‘Against All Odds’ (1984)Getty

In the 1980s and 90s, Bridges worked steadily in films like Disney’s TRON and Starman, in which he plays an alien who takes on the appearance of a woman’s dead husband. That role would earn him a third Oscar nomination, but still not a win. After starring in Against All Odds in 1984, he’d star alongside his brother Beau and Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, about fledgling lounge singers who decide the addition of a sexy female singer is the answer to their prayers. While it received critical acclaim and four Oscar nods, it underwhelmed at the box office.

Nonetheless, Bridges marched into the 1990s and his 40s with a steady stream of movie roles. The decade kicked off with a long-awaited sequel to The Last Picture Show, Texasville. A year later, he appeared as a bitter radio show host who tries to help a homeless man (Robin Williams) in The Fisher King, followed by American Heart, the thriller The Vanishing, and The Mirror Has Two Faces.

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Jeff Bridges in ‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998) Filmed Entertainment

But it was 1998 that would bring his most memorable role yet (the one he says people “stop him on the street” for) in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski. Bridges plays Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, an unemployed grifter who gets roped into a crime ring after a case of mistaken identity. The film became a cult classic and earned Bridges rave reviews. With his laid-back demeanor, penchant for White Russians, and iconic wardrobe, The Dude became more than just a character; he became a cultural phenomenon, cementing Bridges’ cinematic legend status with a devoted fan base spanning generations.

Jeff Bridges in the 2000s

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Jeff Bridges in ‘ Crazy Heart’ (2009) Pictures

Heading into nearly half a century as an actor, Bridges continued to be a sought-after leading man, with roles in The Contender (garnering him a 4th Oscar nomination), Seabiscuit, Stick It, and Iron Man. But it was his role as a country musician in 2009’s Crazy Heart that would finally earn him that coveted Academy Award. A sixth nomination for the Coen Brothers’ film True Grit would come just a year later.

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Jeff Bridges (2000)Getty

The following years would earn Bridges several more movies under his belt. As he enters the seventh decade of his career, Jeff Bridges can reflect on a career most in Hollywood would only dream of while managing to live a relatively ‘normal’ life. Bridges is also a musician with several albums, an accomplished photographer whose work is featured in galleries worldwide, a painter, and a staunch advocate for environmental and humanitarian causes.

Whether he’s gracing the silver screen, strumming his guitar, or capturing moments through his lens, Bridges is a true Renaissance man for the ages.

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