Jeff Spicoli is the protagonist in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (on Amazon), a 1982 high school comedy that defined a generation and is still considered to be one of the funniest teen films ever made.
Played by a 22-year-old Sean Penn, the character embodied the surfer stereotype, one associated with a carefree attitude and copious quantities of marijuana.
The Creation of Jeff Spicoli
Fast Times at Ridgemont High was based on a book by Cameron Crowe, who also wrote the screenplay.
It was directed by Amy Heckerling, but it was actually initially offered to David Lynch, who had directed The Elephant Man just a couple of years earlier.
At the time, Sean Penn was a complete unknown. He had starred in a couple of TV movies, but it was Fast Times at Ridgemont High that would serve as his breakout role.
Legend has it that he adopted the full method acting technique, insisting that crew members refer to him as Jeff Spicoli as he tried to live the part of the iconic character.
Jeff Spicoli was adored by teenagers throughout the 1980s and inspired many to take up surfing, as well as a few other recreational activities.
He was also instrumental in the rise of Vans shoes.
A scene in which he opens a box of the shoes was actually a well-planned product placement, but it did so much for the brand that the film was mentioned in the creator's NY Times obituary several decades later. The obituary began:
"James Van Doren, who designed the tenacious shoe that became a mainstay of California skateboard culture — and touched off a national fad after Sean Penn wore a black-and-white-checked pair in the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” — died on Oct. 12 at his home in Fullerton, Calif. He was 72."
Sean Penn didn't win any major awards for his performance as Jeff Spicoli, but that didn't stop him from becoming an iconic figure in the surfing community, and one that is still mentioned some 40 years later.
It also helped him to build a career that would eventually lead to 2 Academy Awards (for Mystic River and Milk) and a total of 5 nominations.
Jeff Spicoli Quotes
"Surfing is not a sport. It's a way of life - no hobby. It's a way of looking at that wave and saying: 'hey bud, let's party!"
"All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine."
"So what Jefferson was saying was 'Hey! You know, we left this England place because it was bogus. So, if we don't get some cool rules ourselves, pronto, we'll just be bogus too.' Yeah?"
"I'll tell you, Stu. I did battle some humongous waves. But you know, just like I told the guy on ABC, 'danger is my business.'"
“Mr. Hand, do you have a guy like me in all your classes? You know, a guy you make an example of?"