Remembering Roy Scheider

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Actor Roy Scheider 1932-2008.

By Alex Simon

Actor Roy Scheider died Sunday February 10, age 75, the cause of death yet to be determined, although he had apparently been treated for multiple myeloma over the past two years. His widow, Brenda Seimer, told The New York Times that the actor died from complications of a staph infection. It's hard to believe that this icon of the '70s greatest films is no longer with us. When you think about the run Scheider had during that hallowed decade of American cinema, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with another performer who appeared in hit-after-legendary hit as Roy Scheider did.

Scheider started the decade off with 1971's Best Picture winner, The French Conneciton, playing NYPD cop "Cloudy" Russo, the sensible partner to Gene Hackman's hot-headed "Popeye" Doyle. After toiling in the business for more than a decade in off-off Broadway parts (director William Friedkin discovered Scheider in just such a play by Jean Genet in which he was playing a cigar-smoking nun!), and bit parts in films (most notably Jane Fonda's cold-blooded pimp in Klute, also '71), the 39 year-old Scheider scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and quickly became one of the most sought-after performers in the business. Just look at this list of now-classic films Scheider either headlined or co-starred in over the next decade: The Seven-Ups, Jaws, Marathon Man, Sorcerer, and Bob Fosse's masterpiece, All That Jazz, in which Scheider, more-or-less playing Fosse himself, earned a much-deserved Best Actor nomination (which many feel he should have won, losing out to Dustin Hoffman for the more sentimental Kramer vs. Kramer).

"He was a wonderful guy. He was what I call 'a knockaround actor,'" Jaws co-star 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," he said.

From left-to-right: Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws.

Scheider will likely be best-remembered for his portrait of no-nonsense police chief Martin Brody in the first summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg's Jaws, while cinefiles will surely regard Scheider's turn in All That Jazz (in a part, ironically, that Richard Dreyfuss was originally cast) as his greatest performance. Who knew that a consummate "tough guy" actor like Scheider could sing and dance with equal aplomb? Scheider continued to do solid work through the '80s and '90s, even though his star began to wain somewhat.


Standout work in films such as Jonathan Demme's Last Embrace, John Badham's Blue Thunder, John Frankenheimer's brutal 52 Pick-Up, David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, 2010,Peter Hyams' sequel to Kubrick's 2001 and independent films like The Myth of Fingerprints, kept reminding audiences just how good Scheider was. Like his one-time co-star Gene Hackman, Scheider could rule the screen by doing seemingly nothing, just being. He also had a two year run as the lead on Spielberg's TV hit Seaquest DSV, but found that doing a weekly series wasn't to his taste.

Scheider as director Joe Gideon, his Oscar-nominated role in Bob Fosse's All That Jazz.

Speaking for most filmgoers of my generation (gen X), we have lost one of our most consistent, dependable and always surprising performers. They just don't seem to make (or cast) actors like Roy Scheider anymore in the current climate of personality over talent, commodity over story, sensationalism over truth. And that's what Roy Scheider really seemed to be doing in all his performances: planting his feet, looking the other actor in the eye, and telling the truth.

Thank you, Roy. You will be missed.

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