Jeff Dowd, the real life inspiration for The Dude in "The Big Lebowski," explains the lasting love for the movie and how the film saved a life and supports the troops.
NoDef – "The Big Lebowski" returned to the Prytania in July. What do you make of this 12 year love affair with a movie that was originally basically a box office disappointment?
JD – Well, people love it because it's gonna make you feel better. And that's a great thing. That's why, you know, I run into people that three generations of a Republican family in San Diego, (chewing) excuse me while I have a little munch here, that watch it at Christmas time. I go, what are you crazy? Why don't you watch "It's a Wonderful Life" or at least, "Miracle on 34th Street?" And they go, well, I'll tell you why, Dude. These are Republicans, not hippy Republicans. Their whole family gets together and there's like twenty people there and then, all the dark stuff, you know damn well all the dark stuff's gonna come out soon.
NoDef – (laughing) Right.
JD – With the good stuff, so we instantly pop in "The Big Lebowski" and we're all sittin' around, laughing and loving it.
I met a guy named Chris Coyle and his wife, Dee. I went to a Lebowski Fest in New York. I don't get paid for those so, you know, I go to the one in New York, I go to Atlanta, I go to (chewing) a couple others and of course, Louisville, they do it, but anyhow, so this guy comes up to me and starts to hug me and tears are rolling down out of his eyes, big guy, and he says, "Dude, I gotta thank you."
And I go, "Why?"
"You saved my life."
And I go, "What do you mean?"
And he goes, well, if it wasn't for you, I'll tell you a story, I was at 9-11 and I was within the tower, but the last minute me and some buddies decided to meet each other for breakfast and we ended up talking a little longer and that's when the explosion went off. But I'm also an EMT, I always carry my stuff in my backpack with me. I've lost a lot of people, I saved a lot of lives and I've watched a lot of people die in my arms. But I've never seen anything like that morning when you saw people on fire because they were jumping out of windows.
He says a lot of my friends at work died that day, a lot of cops and a lot of firemen I knew died and he says, drinking buddies, friends from around the hood and all that stuff. And so, you know, I went into post traumatic shock, I was a total basket case, he says, yeah it was terrible, we have five kids, five kids and, you know, he wasn't there. He was sitting on the couch all day glum, angry, sad and certainly not much of a husband or lover at all, none of that anymore.
And he said, I went to every doctor and shrink and therapist and tried every kind of drug and cocktail of drugs and stuff, nothing worked. It was that heavy.
And he says, about six months after 9-11, sitting on that couch one day, feeling terrible, I look over on the shelf where the movies are and I notice "The Big Lebowski." And something told me, and I went up and I took it out and put it in my DVD player and he said, for the first time since 9-11, I started laughing and laughing more and laughing and smiling and he said, by the end of that movie, I just popped out of it. Then he watched it again and he just came out of it entirely.
And he said, if it wasn't for you, in the sense of like, you know, the five people you meet in heaven, you know, maybe if Joel and Ethan hadn't met you, they would have made some other movies and all that stuff and maybe I would have liked that stuff, but that movie just made me feel so good and I gotta say you saved my life. So, it's like Preston Sturges in "Sullivan's Travels."
NoDef – Right.
JD – He wants to make his own "Grapes of Wrath," but then he discovers, you know, when he's in that jail, that's basically Hooverville, they're not even criminals, half of them, they're just "Grapes of Wrath" people. And he's sitting there and one day, there's all these sad looking men there and they put on one of his silly movies and everybody's laughing, they're laughing. And he goes, Jesus, maybe I'm doing something pretty good. I'm bringing joy into people's lives and when you think about it, you know, what do any pills do? Whether it's Prozac or whatever those pills are that people take to make people feel better. Well, if a movie can make you feel better, that's a pretty good thing.
NoDef – That's what drew me to the industry.
JD – Yep. And so, I think that explains it to you. This is also why every sports team has it like a default movie on the bus or plane and they watch parts of it. You know, it's like a CD with twelve songs, but they're all pretty good, you know? I doesn't matter which one you put on and in what sequence. (??? alone?) when you've got a twenty minute ride. Almost all the guys in Iraq and Afghanistan have that movie, too. Any place where people work hard but they've got down time and they're all together during their down time, they've all watched that movie. Wall Street people, they all do.
And it crosses, you know, it doesn't matter about your politics, it crosses age, you know, it doesn't matter. Eighty year olds love that stuff. Even at my mother's assisted care place, even there. Anyhow, the point is, that kind of explains it.
Next week, The Dude talks about expectations and compares Lebowski Fest fans with Trekkies.