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Monday, February 11, 2008

Movie News: Actor Roy Scheider Dies at 75

2-time Oscar nominee Roy Scheider died yesterday at the age of 75. He was one of a group of actors who found unlikely stardom in the 1970s, including his French Connection co-star Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, and Elliot Gould. Like those peers he parlayed his unconventional looks into a stellar career, opening the decade with his performances in the thriller Klute with Jane Fonda and a Best Supporting Actor nomination in the iconic The French Connection playing Popeye Doyle's partner Buddy Russo and closing it with a Best Actor nomination for Bob Fosse's challengingly indulgent tour-de-force All That Jazz.

His commercial peak came in between with the movie that defined the blockbuster, Jaws, the first movie to make $100 million in theatrical release. His role of Chief Brody was the audience's surrogate, city guy on an island who just knows there is something wrong. His humanity, wit, and timing all come together to make an unforgettable performance in a movie dominated by a chomping shark and scenery chewers Richard Dreyfus and Robert Shaw. Scheider also appeared in the sequel Jaws 2, which he was forced to do contractually rather than a part in The Deer Hunter.

Like Gould and Hackman, Scheider would settle into character roles by the late 80s and 1990s, reliably tough and authoritative. He would star for a time on the television show Seaquest: DSV, as well as doing theatre.

For a taste of the best of Scheider, start with the aforementioned Klute, The French Connection, Jaws, and All That Jazz. Then dig into gritty cop thriller The Seven-Ups from 1973, the odd comedy Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York from 1975, the paranoid Nazi dentist thriller Marathon Man from 1976 in which Scheider plays Dustin Hoffman's brother, Sorcerer, a tough remake of Wages of Fear which reunited Scheider with French Connection director Billy Friedkin, The Last Embrace, Jonathan Demme's first Hitchcockian attempt to get away from b-movies in 1982, Blue Thunder, John Badham's still fun 1983 killer choppers over L.A. techno-thriller, and a sly, mincing and funny turn as Dr. Benway in David Cronenberg's odd adaptation of William Burrough's Naked Lunch in 1991.

Here's the "Bye Bye Life" sequence from All That Jazz :

Here's one of the deliciously snarky scenes between Scheider and Malcolm McDowell from Blue Thunder :

Here's part of the classic rope-bridge sequence from The Sorcerer :

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