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Richard Dreyfuss felt a great deal of comfort when Jay Thomas was added to the cast of Mr. Holland’s Opus, calling the actor who played Coach Bill Meister “a rock.”
Thomas, known for his work in that film and also on the sitcoms Murphy Brown and Cheers, among many more TV shows and movies, died Thursday. He was 69.
Shortly after getting the news, Dreyfuss told The Hollywood Reporter he was shocked and heartbroken, as Thomas was a special person in his life.
“He was a hell of a companion and easy to work with,” Dreyfuss said. “He was light on his feet intellectually and he was fun.”
The two men starred in the iconic 1995 Oscar-nominated film as a pair of unlikely friends — high school music teacher Glenn Holland (Dreyfuss) and that school’s football coach, Bill Meister.
Thomas brought the magic that made the chemistry organic, Dreyfuss said.
“I was damn glad that he was in that film because I knew him as a rock, someone who you could rely on,” he said. “He was exactly the way that character was. One of the most important scenes was with the marching band where I don’t know what the hell I am doing, and he is on the field and takes over for me. That was him. I never questioned anything about what he did. And he was able to do it differently each time, which is what I consider to be a great, great talent.”
In order to do his best work, Dreyfuss noted he needs a “relaxed and creative atmosphere,” and that is what Thomas brought to the set.
“Jay was the epitome of that,” he said, jokingly adding, “And It pissed me off he didn’t age the way I did.”
The last time the two men spoke was in the spring to discuss Dreyfuss possibly coming on his SiriusXM program, The Jay Thomas Show.
The Mr. Holland’s Opus star noted Thomas’ passing is made just that much more difficult to bear with the death of his onscreen wife, Glenne Headly, in June.
“Everyone who worked on that film all bounded in a unique way,” said Dreyfuss.
Thomas is survived by wife Sally and sons Sam, Max and J.T.
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