On this day in 1932, Roy Scheider, the actor best known for his role as the police chief of a community terrorized by a killer shark in director Steven Spielberg’s breakthrough movie, Jaws (1975), is born in Orange, New Jersey. In addition to Jaws, Scheider, a prominent Hollywood leading man during the 1970s, starred in such Academy Award-winning films as The French Connection (1971) and All That Jazz (1979).
Scheider, whose distinctive broken nose resulted from a youth boxing competition, graduated from Franklin and Marshall College and served in the U.S. Air Force. He began his professional acting career in theater in the early 1960s and made his big-screen debut in the low-budget 1964 horror film The Curse of the Living Corpse. Scheider went on to appear in such films as 1971’s Klute, with Jane Fonda, and The French Connection, which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Gene Hackman, for his performance as the police detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle) and Best Director (William Friedkin). Scheider also earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as the New York City narcotics detective Buddy Russo.
In 1975, Scheider scored the biggest box-office hit of his career with Spielberg’s Jaws, in which he played Martin Brody, the police chief of a New England resort town whose beaches are threatened by a great white shark. Jaws, which was based on a novel by Peter Benchley and co-starred Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, became the first movie in history to gross over $100 million. Scheider reportedly ad-libbed the now-famous line “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” in reponse to the giant shark’s appearance. Jaws won three Academy Awards as well as a Best Picture nomination.
Scheider’s next film was 1976’s Marathon Man, with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. In 1978, Scheider reprised his role as Chief Brody for Jaws 2, which featured the now-famous tagline: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...” In 1979, Scheider starred in All That Jazz, director Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical film about his life as a Broadway dancer, choreographer and director. The film received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Scheider, who lost the award to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer.
In the decades that followed, Scheider performed on stage and continued to act in movies, including Russia House (1990), with Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer; Naked Lunch (1991), based on the William S. Burroughs novel of the same name; and the TV series SeaQuest DSV. Scheider died at the age of 75 on February 10, 2008, in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was undergoing treatment for cancer.