1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

An irresistibly versatile actor: Dustin Hoffman turns 85

August 7, 2022

From "The Graduate" to "Tootsie," he has tackled diverse roles — and he's still at it as he now turns 85. A look back at this charismatic actor's impressive career.

Dustin Hoffman in Cannes, 2017
Image: picture alliance/Sputnik/dpa/A. Yesayants

Although many aspiring actors move to Los Angeles hoping to make it big, Dustin Hoffman, who was born there on August 8, 1937, preferred to move to New York City at the age of 20 to find acting gigs. 

Sharing an apartment with Robert Duvall and Gene Hackman, he picked up odd jobs while trying to build his career on Broadway and studying at Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio, which led him to become a dedicated method actor.

Still from 'The Graduate' with Dustin Hoffman (1967)
'The Graduate' turned him into a Hollywood heartthrob Image: Kinowelt

After Hoffman's film debut in "The Tiger Makes Out" in 1967, his breakthrough role came later that same year.

'The Graduate,' the film that would change everything

Filmmaker Mike Nichols cast him as the lead character in "The Graduate," which tells the story of an aimless recent college graduate who is seduced by an older woman. 

It was an unconventional choice at the time, as this type of role would usually have been given to a tall, handsome actor and not "a short, funny-looking Jewish guy," as Hoffman describes himself. The film, featuring great songs by Simon and Garfunkel, turned out to be an unexpected box office hit, and 55 years later, it remains a classic.

Hoffman didn't expect to become a superstar so quickly either. "The truth of it is that I got a lot of crappy parts offered to me and I didn't want to make movies any more; I wanted to go back to the theater," he once told The Guardian.

A completely different character, the seedy conman Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo in "Midnight Cowboy," was attractive enough to make him return to act in movies in 1969. The only X-rated film to ever win a Best Picture Academy Award, this other cult movie established Hoffman's reputation as a versatile actor. (The rating was later changed to R.)

He's since tackled practically all genres over the last five decades of his career and has won numerous awards, including two Oscars and five additional nominations for Best Actor.

Dustin Hoffman receiving the Oscar for his role in "Kramer vs. Kramer" in 1980
Dustin Hoffman receiving the Oscar from Jane Fonda for his role in 'Kramer vs. Kramer' in 1980Image: AP

Though his most notable work was done from the 1960s through the 1980s, his over-60-movie filmography is simply too broad to mention all of his successful roles. 

In addition to the films referenced in the gallery above, Hoffman has starred in Wolfgang Petersen's "Outbreak" (1995), Luc Besson's "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" (1999) and Tom Tykwer's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" (2006), among many others.

Still active and trying new things out

The actor also directed his first film in 2012, "Quartet," which received positive reviews.

Successfully treated for cancer a year later, Dustin Hoffman did not retire from acting afterwards.

In 2017, he was at the Cannes Film Festival to promote "The Meyerowitz Stories," where he plays a forgotten abstract artist with a dysfunctional family. The Netflix production was released later that year.  

The movie "As They Made Us" opened in movie theaters in April 2022 , featuring Hoffman as the patriarch with a degenerative disease in a dysfunctional family.  

The celebrated actor is also the voice of Master Shifu in the "Kung Fu Panda" films. The scriptwriters of the animated martial arts comedies were probably inspired by the challenging diversity of Hoffman's roles when they made his character say, "If you only do what you can do, you'll never be better than what you are."

This is an updated version of an English article that was originally published on August 8, 2017. 

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture