"Jaws" Star Roy Scheider Dead at 75

Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss in "Jaws" (1975), directed by Steven Spielberg.
Universal Pictures
Roy Scheider, the charismatic stage, screen and television actor best known for his role as the police chief in the blockbuster movie "Jaws," has died at age 75.

The two-time Oscar nominee died Sunday at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital in Little Rock, hospital spokesman David Robinson said.

The hospital did not release a cause of death, but Scheider had been treated for multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells) at the hospital's Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy for the past two years.

A one-time boxer known for his broken nose and pugnacious acting style, Scheider starred along with Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw in the smash hit "Jaws," which became the highest-grossing film up to that time. Its success catapulted the career of director Steven Spielberg (it was only his second theatrical film), and heralded a new era in Hollywood blockbusters.

"Jaws" was adapted from a bestselling novel by Peter Benchley in which a fictional Long Island community, Amity, is terrorized by a great white shark devouring whatever swimmers and boaters get in its path. As Sheriff Brody, who barely had his sea legs while pursuing the shark with Shaw's fisherman and Dreyfuss' oceanographer, Scheider was memorably stoic and humorous in the face of unimaginable terror.

Photos: Roy Scheider
Before "Jaws" debuted, Scheider had earned an Academy Award nomination (the first of two) for his supporting role as the partner of Gene Hackman's loose-cannon cop in "The French Connection" (1971).
(20th Century Fox)
Scheider's second Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actor, was for his flamboyant star turn in Bob Fosse's quasi-autobiographical "All That Jazz" (1979). As the Broadway director/choreographer and film director Joe Gideon, Scheider was a womanizing, drug-abusing anti-hero who pushed himself to excess, while engaging in fanciful dialogues with an Angel of Death, played by Jessica Lange.

"I've been fortunate to do what I consider three landmark films," he told The Associated Press in 1986. "'The French Connection' spawned a whole era of the relationship between two policemen, based on an enormous amount of truth about working on the job.

"'Jaws' was the first big, blockbuster outdoor-adventure film. And certainly 'All That Jazz' is not like any old MGM musical. Each one of these films is unique, and I consider myself fortunate to be associated with them."

He repeated his "Jaws" role in the sequel three years later (a contract requirement which reportedly kept him out of appearing in "The Deer Hunter").

Born into a working class family in Orange, N.J., he was stricken with rheumatic fever at 6. He spent long periods in bed, becoming a voracious reader. Except for a slight heart murmur, he was pronounced cured at 17. He acquired the distinctive shape of his nose in an amateur boxing match.

After three years in the Air Force, Scheider sought a New York theater career in 1960. His debut came a year later as Mercutio in the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of "Romeo and Juliet." He also played minor roles in such films as "Paper Lion" and "Stiletto," before making a breakthrough in 1971 as Jane Fonda's pimp in "Klute."

"He was a wonderful guy. He was what I call 'a knockaround actor,'" Richard Dreyfuss told The Associated Press on Sunday.

"A 'knockaround actor' to me is a compliment that means a professional that lives the life of a professional actor and doesn't' yell and scream at the Fates and does his job and does it as well as he can," Dreyfuss said.

Scheider also appeared in the films "Marathon Man" as Dustin Hoffman's brother; "Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York"; "Sorcerer"; "Still of the Night" with Meryl Streep; "Blue Thunder"; "2010", a sequel to the classic science fiction film "2001: A Space Odyssey"; "52 Pick-Up"; "The Russia House"; "Naked Lunch," David Cronenberg's adaptation of William S. Burroughs's novel; and "The Myth of Fingerprints."

He returned to the stage in 1980, earning a Drama League of New York award for his performance in the Harold Pinter drama "Betrayal," starring opposite Raul Julia and Blythe Danner.

More recently, he played the slick CEO of an insurance company that denies coverage to a young man dying of leukemia in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Rainmaker," based on the John Grisham novel, and appeared in the direct-to-video "Dracula II: Ascension" and "Dracula III: Legacy." He recently filmed the thrillers "Iron Cross" in Kracow, Poland, and "If I Didn't Care."

Beyond early TV roles in "The Edge of Night," "N.Y.P.D." and "Cannon," Scheider starred in the series "SeaQuest DSV" and "Third Watch," and made guest appearances on "Law and Order: Criminal Intent."

Scheider was also politically active. He participated in rallies protesting U.S. military action in Iraq, including a massive New York demonstration in March 2003 that police said drew 125,000 chanting activists.

Scheider had a home built for him and his family in 1994 in Sagaponack in the Hamptons on New York's Long Island, where he was active in community issues. Last summer, Scheider announced that he was selling the home for about $18.75 million and moving to the nearby village of Sag Harbor.

Although "Jaws" frightened some moviegoers out of the water for years, Scheider told the AP in 1986 that he considered his role somewhat comedic.

"If you go back and look at the way it's developed and built, that is really a funny character," he said. "He's a fumbler with all kinds of inhibitions and fears - that's the way we built that character."