February 14, 2008

Veteran actor Roy Scheider Dies

From Edge of Night to Jaws and beyond, Scheider's career
spanned more than four decades

Little Rock, AK – Veteran actor Roy Scheider, whose television work spanned four decades, died recently in Little Rock, Arkansas, after a long battle with multiple myeloma which led to a fatal case of staph infection. He was 75.

Best known for his role as police chief Brody in the 1975 blockbuster movie Jaws and his Oscar-nominated work in films like All That Jazz and The French Connection, Scheider also appeared in numerous TV projects, beginning with The Edge of Night in 1962 and culminating last year in a guest starring role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

“He was a wonderful guy,” Richard Dreyfuss, Scheider’s Jaws co-star, told the Associated Press. “He was what I call a ‘knockaround actor.’ 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 is as well as he can.”

Scheider was born in Orange, New Jersey. A sickly, pudgy child, he spent much of his childhood bedridden. By the time he was 17 he’d become an athlete who played baseball and competed in a New Jersey Golden Gloves boxing competition, which left him with his distintinctive off-kilter nose. At Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he graduated with a degree in history with the intention of going to law school.

After three years in the Air Force, where he became a first lieutenant, Scheider returned to Franklin and Marshall to star in a production of Richard III, which began a nearly 10 year run of doing classical theater. His professional debut was in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s 1961 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which he played Mercutio.

In addition to making his TV debut in 1962, he made his film debut in 1964’s The Curse of the Living Corpse, a 1964 B-movie. By 1965 he made his Broadway debut in Tartuffe and in 1967 he won an Obie Award for his work in Stephen D. His breakthrough performance came in the 1971 film Klute, in which he played a pimp. That began a bountiful decade for Scheider, during which he starred in some of the decade’s most memorable films, All That Jazz being his most treasured.

“That will always be my favorite film,” Scheider told the San Jose Mercury Sun in 1999. “But I never worked harder in my life. I felt I had to prove myself to the dance company. I didn’t want to misrepresent them…I was in relatively good shape. But at the end of the day, I’d return to the Holiday Inn with my Tiger Balm.”

While the rest of his career may not have matched his output during the ‘70s, Scheider remained a working actor for the three decades. In addition to work in films, he also showed up sporadically on TV. Scheider hosted Saturday Night Live in 1985 and had a five-episode arc in 2002 on Third Watch. He also lent his voice to an episode of Family Guy in 2007. Scheider’s most memorable television role was from 1993 to 1996 as the captain of a futuristic submarine in SeaQuest DSV, which was executive produced by his Jaw director, Steven Spielberg.

In later years Scheider, a resident of Sag Harbor, New York, became increasingly politically active. He participated in protests against war and for environmental issues. He helped to create the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, dedicated to creating an innovative, culturally diverse learning environment for local children. And in 2003 he was among a group of protesters who laid on a Long Island highway in protest of the Iraq war.

After being diagnosed with multiple myeloma at the end of 2004, Scheider later went on The Today Show and said he considered himself lucky. “Every single day,” he said, “it’s a miracle.”

Scheider is survived by his second wife, documentary filmmaker Brenda Siemer, and two of his children, Christian Scheider, and Molly Scheider. His oldest child from a previous marriage, Maximillia Connelly Lord, died in 2006.

Bob Makela

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