'Dude' who inspired Coen film 'The Big Lebowski' has become a cult figure

by Jennifer Sullivan

The Seattle Times (MCT)

23 July 2009


SEATTLE — Jeff “The Dude” Dowd lumbered off the light rail train, sunglasses on, gray curly mop of hair nodding and his hands waving emphatically as he rattled on about politics, energy, transportation and the environment.

He was surrounded Tuesday night by admirers who greeted him on the train with “Hey, it’s the Dude,” and he didn’t even skip a beat when a stranger offered him and his quickly growing entourage a ride to a nearby bowling alley in Tukwila, Wash., between Seattle and Tacoma. Hitching a ride to a gig was nothing out of the ordinary for the man known around the world as the inspiration behind film idol Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski.

For seven years, Dowd has left his digs in Santa Monica, Calif. to make a handful of appearances at celebrations honoring the cult film “The Big Lebowski.” Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen based the role, played by Jeff Bridges, on Dowd, who once worked at the Seattle International Film Festival and met the Coens.

Dressed the slacker part in his Hawaiian shirt, torn cargo pants and Lebowski Fest T-shirt, Los Angeles circa 2007, Dowd shook hands, posed for photos, bowled a couple of games and guzzled the requisite or two White Russian — the signature drink favored by Bridges throughout the 1998 film.

Dowd, a onetime University of Washington student, eats up the attention. He said it gives him a chance to not only entertain Lebowski Achievers, the name given to fans of the film, but to gab with people about his favorite subjects — economics, the military, Boeing, energy and, of course, mass transit. Dowd said the event in Tukwila offered him a chance to try out the region’s new mass-transit system, something he has supported in Seattle since the 1970s.

“Its allowed me on some levels to have access and do things I would have never done,” Dowd said. “The thing that’s interesting about ‘Lebowski’ folks, compared to William Shatner and the Trekkies, is that they are social people.”

Anthony Warner of Seattle said he spotted Dowd across the train just before the Tukwila stop and had to say hello.

Warner, 33, his girlfriend and their friend also took the train to the “Lebowski Fest” event at the Acme Bowl and, like Dowd, the three had no idea how far the light rail station was from the bowling alley.

Fortunately for the group, Robert McKee of Renton, Wash., and his 6-year-old daughter came upon them at the Tukwila station and offered them a ride. McKee has never seen “The Big Lebowski” but after 10 minutes in the car, the recently laid-off electrician said he planned to watch the film because Dowd was such “an interesting fellow.”

Inside the bowling alley, Dowd was greeted by dozens of people dressed in bathrobes, true Dude style, or as their favorite “Lebowski” characters — marmots, a Folger’s coffee can, Walter Sobchak and Bunny Lebowski’s missing toe.

Chester Boldyn, 56, stepped aside and let Dowd bowl the first ball of a frame for him — Dowd knocked over the first nine pins for Boldyn, who then picked up the spare.

“The Dude is the best. This is like a Grateful Dead concert and I used to roadie for The Dead,” Boldyn laughed.

Warner, who quickly changed into his Jesus Quintana costume at the bowling alley, said it was his second local Lebowski fest event this week.

“It’s an honor to hang out with the Dude. He’s a living urban legend,” Warner said. “He’s got a message behind what he does. I respect that.”

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