John Frederick Dryer was born in Hawthorne, California, on July 6, 1946, son of Charles F. Dryer and Genevieve Nell Clark. Raised in Lawndale, California, he attended Lawndale High School and El Camino College. Before acting, he played football for 14 years.
In college, Dryer played for the Aztecs of San Diego State University. The 6' 6", 225-pound defensive end was named First Team All-American in 1968 and played in the College All-Star Game, East-West Shrine Game and Hula Bowl in 1969. A two-year letterman and starter, Dryer received the Chase Memorial Trophy as the school's top defensive lineman in 1968. Fred was inducted into the Aztec Hall of Fame. On May 28, 1997, he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Dryer was drafted by the New York Giants in the first round. But he left the Giants and returned to California to play for the Los Angeles Rams. With the Rams, Fred made the Pro Bowl in 1970 and 1975 and played in Super Bowl XIV in 1980.
In the 80s, he started acting. In 1979, he began studying with actress and acting coach Nina Foch.