Roy Scheider, a one-time boxer whose broken nose and pugnacious acting style made him a star in “The French Connection” and who later uttered one of cinematic history’s most memorable lines in “Jaws,” has died. He was 75.
Scheider 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 at the hospital’s Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy for the past two years.
Scheider earned two Academy Award nominations — a best-supporting nod for 1971’s “The French Connection” in which he played the police partner of Oscar winner Gene Hackman, and a best-actor nomination for 1979’s “All That Jazz,” the semi-autobiographical Bob Fosse film.
But he was perhaps best known for his role as a small-town police chief in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film “Jaws,” about a killer shark terrorizing beachgoers — as well as millions of moviegoers.
In 2005, one of Scheider’s most famous lines in the movie — “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” — was voted No. 35 on the American Film Institute’s list of best quotes from U.S. movies.
“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.”
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.” Then he made 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, who co-starred with Scheider and Robert Shaw in “Jaws,” said 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 and “Naked Lunch,” David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S. Burroughs’s novel. He starred in “Jaws 2,” which turned out not to be as successful as the original.
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,” and appeared in the direct-to-video “Dracula II: Ascension” and “Dracula III: Legacy.”
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.”