Feb 11, 2008
RIP Roy Scheider
Yesterday, actor Roy Scheider passed away at the age of 75. This terrific leading man was obviously best known for playing Chief Brody in some obscure shark movie called Jaws, but was also in other key pictures of the 1970's, such as The French Connection and All that Jazz. Having broken his nose in his earlier career of a boxer, he had an unconventional look for a leading man, but his image was perfect for the 1970's, when other actors like Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman or Elliott Gould would be stars, whose everyday looks gave them credence as leading man as well as character actors- perfect for the blue collar milieu that dominated the films of the era.
As such, Roy Scheider was always a joy to watch. His affable personality and strong presence made us root for his characters. Before he made Jaws, he had already proven himself a solid leading man in The Seven Ups, a terrific and lesser remembered crime thriller from French Connection producer Philip D'Antoni. His hard boiled look made him a natural for action or suspense films, and yet his features also made him properly vulnerable for such gems as Jonathan Demme's Last Embrace Frankenhemier's excellent underrated 52 Pickup, and even Robert Benton's also underrated Still of the Night.
He was such a solid actor that he still managed to shine through such vanity projects as William Friedkin's infamous Sorceror, and Bob Fosse's All that Jazz- for which he received an Oscar nomination as the director's alter ego. The latter is perhaps his most unconventional role, but he was superb as the pill-popping dancer. Fosse's wildly excessive movie, where Broadway meets 8 1/2, includes death fantasies and other over the top indulgences, but it is Roy Scheider's human element that keeps this grounded and believable.
As such, Roy Scheider would still keep busy for the next 25 years in leading or supporting roles. In the 1990's he was on TV in "Seaquest DSV", and was also quite sinister as a gangster in "Third Watch".
I've known people who worked with Roy Scheider on set (since this is Canada, I'm assuming they're referring to time spent on Naked Lunch), and by all accounts he was one good guy even when the cameras weren't rolling. And that is probably a fitting epitaph... "one good guy". We always rooted for him, as his characters connected to us on a deeply personal level, and his screen presence was so great that even when he played less than honourable people, he still stole the show. He was also a great interviewee in the monumental documentary "A Decade Under the Influence"- the superb film about 1970's cinema. And while most of his key films were made in that decade, he was always a joy to watch. Class acts like this don't come to cinema quite often.