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Richard Dysart was born to Alice (née Hennigar) and Douglas Dysart, a podiatrist, near Boston, Massachusetts on March 30, 1929.[1] Dysart was raised in Skowhegan, Maine and Augusta, Maine.[1] He attended Gould Academy in Bethel, Maine. At the encouragement of his mother, Dysart performed in summer stock at the Lakewood Theater near Skowhegan.[1] He also worked at a local radio station.[2]

He earned both bachelor’s and master’s in speech communication from Emerson College in Boston, although his undergraduate education was interrupted due to his service for four years in the United States Air Force during the Korean War.[1][3] At Emerson he performed on stage,[1] and he was a class officer and student government vice-president.[3] He was a brother of the Phi Alpha Tau fraternity.[3] He also studied at George Washington University.[3] He returned for his master’s degree later, completing it in 1981.[3]