Jeff Dowd: ‘The Big Lebowski’s’ Real-Life Dude Abides

In 1998, the Coen brothers released the comedy The Big Lebowski, a movie about an unemployed Los Angeles slacker who refers to himself as “The Dude.” The movie initially failed at the box office, but, over the years, the movie has developed a clut-like following. The movie has inspired many events such as the biannual Lebowski fests across the country.

What most Lebowski fans do not know, however, is that “The Dude” was based on an actual person. NBC News reports that the inspiration for the lead role of the cult-classic came from a Los Angeles resident named Jeff Dowd. Dowd still lives his laid-back, dude-like lifestyle, despite the popularity of the movie.

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

Dowd is now even the subject of a short documentary which is titled, of course, The Dude.

In the documentary, Filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig goes into detail revealing Dowd’s earlier years as an anti-war activist and his life after The Big Lebowski. Dowd still lives the same life-stlye and has not changed his personality in the least bit. The documentary shows scenes of him drinking a carton of half half in the grocery store, as famously depicted in The Big Lebowski, and loafing around his apartment disheveled and wearing boxers.

The documentary also shows very early footage of Dowd, including when he spent a year in jail because of when he fought the government and resisted the draft in the Vietnamn War. After spending a year in jail, Dowd went on to market independent films. This is how he met Robert Redford, through the early years of the Sundance Film Festival. He then connected with Lebowski directors Joel and Ethan Coen in 1984.

“They just loved riffing on the name,” Dowd recalls the Coen’s fascination with “The Dude”. “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.”

Here is The Dude (Director’s Cut) from Jeff Feuerzeig on Vimeo.