Bruce Dern is the actor whose 50-year career playing unhinged villains, scraggly misfits and disturbed anti-heroes led up to his 2014 Oscar nomination for the film Nebraska. Bruce Dern attended the prestigious Connecticut private school Choate and the University of Pennsylvania, then studied at the Actor's School in Manhattan. His first film role was an uncredited part in the Montgomery Clift film Wild River in 1960, and he spent that decade making guest appearances in dozens of TV shows, from Sea Hunt and Route 66 to Rawhide and Bonanza. He was a hapless villain in the comedy Support Your Local Sheriff (1969, with James Garner) and a deadly one in The Cowboys (1972), shooting John Wayne in the back. But his 1972 role in the sci-fi film Silent Running really put him on the map: he played a lonely space botanist of the future, caring for a biodome containing the last plant life from planet Earth. Later that decade he was Oscar-nominated as best supporting actor for the 1978 film Coming Home, playing a gung-ho military husband whose marriage goes adrift while he's in Vietnam. (Jon Voight and Jane Fonda won best actor and best actress for the same film.) Bruce Dern kept working through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, though the films and the parts tended to be smaller: The 'Burbs (1989), The Haunting (1999), American Cowslip (2009). But he found the perfect role for his age and persona in Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne, playing a cranky and half-crazy old man on a road trip with his long-suffering son to collect a dubious $1 million sweepstakes prize. Dern was named best actor at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and then nominated for the Academy Award as best actor the next year.
Bruce Dern was married to the actress Diane Ladd from 1960-69. Their daughter, Laura Dern, is the actress who starred in films like Wild at Heart (1990) and Jurassic Park (1993). Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd also had a daughter, Diane, who died as an infant… Bruce Dern’s paternal grandfather was George Henry Dern, who served as both Utah governor (1925-33) and U.S. Secretary of War (1933-36). On his mother’s side, his great-uncle was the poet Archibald MacLeish.
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