Richard Dreyfuss reveals bipolar diagnosis 'took away all of my guilt'

Image: Richard Dreyfuss

Actor Richard Dreyfuss has struggled with bipolar disorder since childhood, but for many years, he didn't know what was behind the intense emotions that filled much of his life.

"I didn't know it was a manic state," he explained during a Tuesday morning visit to TODAY. "I just thought I was really happy, and everything that was bad, I turned to good."

But what seemed good to him sometimes seemed odd to those around him.

"Every once in a while, when I was talking, I would find myself getting up and talking louder and faster and louder and faster and louder and faster, until my friends would say, 'OK, OK. Let's get the big circus cables and throw them around his ankles and pull him gently back to Earth," Dreyfuss recalled.

The star realized those actions were beyond his control, and eventually, he learned what was really behind it all.

"It took away all of my guilt because I found out it wasn't my behavior — it was something I was born with," Dreyfuss explained of his bipolar diagnosis. "I didn't feel shame or guilt. It's like being ashamed that you're 5-foot-6 or something. It's just part of me."

And yet, others living with bipolar disorder often still feel shame, and that's something Dreyfuss, who first spoke publicly about his diagnosis in the 2006 documentary "The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive," hopes will become a thing of the past.

"Stigma is silly; stigma is stupid; stigma is what other people think about you," he said. "I, first of all, don't know anyone who's normal. Everybody's got something, and I come from Hollywood so no one even argues the point. 'Stigma' is a word that should be kicked away — and 'shame' and 'guilt' — because it's a condition."

Now the actor — best known for big-screen blockbusters "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Mr. Holland's Opus" — is working with Hope for Depression Research Foundation and speaking out to help those who want help.

"I'm, personally, not in a hurry to get rid of my condition, but most people are," he said.