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Oscar nominee Roy Scheider rose to fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a string of soulful, streetwise supporting performances in hits like "Klute" (1971) and "The French Connection" (1971). He quickly graduated to leading man status on the strength of his turn as Amity police chief and reluctant shark hunter, Martin Brody, in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster "Jaws" (1975). He also enjoyed a successful run in top-notch pictures like "Marathon Man" (1977), and showed impressive range as a pill-popping choreographer in Bob Fosse's autobiographical, "All That Jazz" (1979). He turned to television in 1993, with Spielberg's sci-fi/adventure series "Seaquest DSV" (NBC, 1993-96), and appeared regularly in films and on television until his surprising death in 2008 from blood cancer. Born Roy Richard Scheider in Orange, NJ on Nov. 10, 1932, he suffered from bouts of rheumatic fever as a boy, so turned to sports to rebuild his strength. Baseball and boxing proved to be his favorites; with the latter also contributing to his uniquely weathered look when his nose was broken during a Golden Gloves bout in his home state. Scheider intended to pursue a legal career after studies at Rutgers and then Franklin...
Oscar nominee Roy Scheider rose to fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a string of soulful, streetwise supporting performances in hits like "Klute" (1971) and "The French Connection" (1971). He quickly graduated to leading man status on the strength of his turn as Amity police chief and reluctant shark hunter, Martin Brody, in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster "Jaws" (1975). He also enjoyed a successful run in top-notch pictures like "Marathon Man" (1977), and showed impressive range as a pill-popping choreographer in Bob Fosse's autobiographical, "All That Jazz" (1979). He turned to television in 1993, with Spielberg's sci-fi/adventure series "Seaquest DSV" (NBC, 1993-96), and appeared regularly in films and on television until his surprising death in 2008 from blood cancer.
Born Roy Richard Scheider in Orange, NJ on Nov. 10, 1932, he suffered from bouts of rheumatic fever as a boy, so turned to sports to rebuild his strength. Baseball and boxing proved to be his favorites; with the latter also contributing to his uniquely weathered look when his nose was broken during a Golden Gloves bout in his home state. Scheider intended to pursue a legal career after studies at Rutgers and then Franklin and Marshall College, but the schools' drama programs proved too alluring for him. After graduating, he served in the Air Force for three years, but returned to the stage, where a performance in "Richard III" attracted the attention of producer Joseph Papp. He then launched a decade-long career as a stage actor, which was broken by occasional appearances on daytime soap operas - including "The Edge of Night" (ABC/CBS, 1956-1984 - television dramas and even a low-budget horror film, 1964's "The Curse of the Living Corpse," for which he was billed as Roy R. Scheider. In 1968, he won an Obie Award for his performance in "Stephen D."
By the late 1960s, Scheider was landing supporting roles in major features like "Stilleto" (1969) and "Puzzle of a Downfall Child" (1970), but it was his appearance as call girl Jane Fonda's pimp/husband in "Klute" (1971) that brought him to the attention of critics and audiences. That same year, he landed the choice part of Buddy Russo, partner to hot-wired detective Popeye Doyle in William Friedkin's hit action-drama "The French Connection" (1971). As Russo, Scheider lent a touch of humanity to the film's high octane action pieces, and he was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The success of "Connection" and the Oscar nod assured Scheider of regular work in tough guy roles for the next few years, most notably in "The Seven-Ups" (1973), an underrated crime drama from "French Connection" producer Philip D'Antoni. Two years later, he was tapped to star in a film version of Peter Benchley's best-selling thriller "Jaws" by up-and-coming director Steven Spielberg. The film's white-knuckle scenes of pursuit at sea were its chief attraction, but Scheider's performance as a (literally) queasy everyman locked in combat with an unstoppable force of nature gave "Jaws" (1976) an extra level of humanity that helped to seal its status as an enduring favorite with moviegoers and the first real summer blockbuster that literally scared people out of the water that year - to say nothing of the fact that Scheider's utterance of one simple line - "You're gonna need a bigger boat" - was later voted one of the top movie lines (#35) in the history of cinema by the American Film Institute.
Despite the worldwide success of "Jaws," Scheider's star status was never set in stone; he enjoyed a second hit as Dustin Hoffman's CIA operative brother in "Marathon Man" (1976), but "Sorcerer" (1977) - a remake of the French suspense classic "The Wages of Fear" (1953) by "French Connection" director William Friedkin - was a substantial failure (and a personal one for Scheider, who was angered by Friedkin's decision to eliminate a subplot that showed his convict character in a more sympathetic light). He also made the unfortunate decision to abandon the lead role in "The Deer Hunter" (1978) over script conflicts left him in a bind to Universal Studios, who forced him to honor his three-picture contract by reprising Chief Brody for the vastly inferior "Jaws II" (1978). A rare shot at a romantic lead in Jonathan Demme's Hitchcock tribute "Last Embrace" (1979) also found few takers at the box office.
Scheider broke with his established screen image to give a bravura performance as Broadway producer and film director Joe Gideon, whose overextended life gets its own show-stopping curtain call in Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical "All That Jazz" (1979). Scheider threw himself into the workhorse role, which included several musical numbers, earning himself a second Oscar nomination for his efforts. Unfortunately, Scheider was unable to capitalize on the picture's critical success, and "Jazz" would remain his last notable starring role.
For much of the 1980s, Scheider was the highlight of numerous uninspired Hollywood features. He enjoyed a big hit with John Badham's action thriller "Blue Thunder" (1983), but his world-weary turn as a police helicopter pilot was overshadowed by the film's primary special effect, a futuristic attack chopper. Peter Hyams' "2010: The Year We Make Contact" (1984) gave him a sizable lead in a high-profile picture - being that it was the long-awaited sequel to 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey" - but the picture simply could not meet the high standards of the Stanley Kubrick original. There were a few highlights along the way - John Frankenheimer's "52 Pick-Up" (1986) was a gritty nod to classic noir that cast Scheider as an architect who finds himself at the center of a blackmail plot, and Paul Schrader tapped him to lend his gravelly voice to the American version of "Mishima" (1985), his biopic of the tragic Japanese novelist. But by the end of the eighties, Scheider was marking time in substandard independent features; one such film, 1989's "Night Game," earned the distinction for being the lowest-grossing movie of that year.
Despite the downward turn in his career, Scheider remained active in his private life; specifically in the Sag Harbor community of New York, where he resided, helping to fund a school there. The early 1990s saw Scheider settling into character roles, with the best of these being Doctor Benway, the perverse inventor of an addictive drug, in David Cronenberg's hallucinatory "Naked Lunch" (1991), and mobster Don Falcone in the eccentric "Romeo is Bleeding" (1993). That same year, Scheider returned to episodic television with "Seaquest DSV," an expensive science fiction series set aboard a futuristic submarine captained by Scheider's Nathan Bridger. The show never found a substantial audience, and frequent tinkering by producers resulted in several major cast changes and thematic shifts. Scheider himself was vocal in his criticism of the show's shortcomings, so abandoned the program before the launch of the third season.
Sadly, few projects that befit his talents would follow; Scheider seemed stuck in an endless loop of weak genre films which tapped his graying authoritative presence to play presidents, military men, cops, and the occasional villain. A few substantive roles popped up here and there; he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his turn as the head of a dysfunctional family in "The Myth of Fingerprints" (1997), and did excellent work as doomed RKO chief George Schaefer in HBO's "RKO 281" (1999), which chronicled Orson Welles' struggle to make "Citizen Kane" (1941). He also enjoyed a juicy recurring role as a Russian mob boss on "Third Watch" (NBC, 1999-2005), but for the most part, Scheider's profile was depressingly low for most of the 1990s and into the next millennium.
In 2004, Scheider was diagnosed with myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, and underwent a bone transplant to treat the cancer the following year. In 2006, he served as narrator and associate producer of "The Shark is Still Working," an obsessive (and unreleased) documentary about "Jaws" that covered every possible detail of the film's history and enduring legacy. The following year, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the SunDeis Film Festival.
In February of 2008, film fans were saddened to hear that Scheider had succumbed to a staph infection while receiving treatment at the UAMS Medical Center in Little Rock, AR. He left behind his second wife, actress Brenda King, and two children, as well as a daughter, Maximillia, from his first marriage to editor Cynthia Scheider. Not unexpectedly, fans of "Jaws" were saddened to see the second major player from the beloved classic pass away - the first, being Robert Shaw in 1978 - with Internet bloggers voicing inevitable headline variations on heaven "now needing a bigger boat."
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