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Roy Scheider Went From Amateur Boxer To Acclaimed Actor — Read About the ‘Jaws’ Star Here

"You're gonna need a bigger boat," he famously said

Of all of the Roy Scheider movies, where would cinema be without the 25-foot-long great white shark nicknamed “Bruce” in the mega-hit Jaws (1975)? More accurately, where would cinema be without his portrayal of Chief Martin Brody in the movie? Or even his commanding performance as NYPD Detective Cloudy Russo in The French Connection (1971)?

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An amateur boxer — classed as a welterweight, weighing in at 140 pounds — from Orange, New Jersey, Roy Richard Scheider became a distinguished Hollywood actor after his time in the ring.

The actor in 1975
Roy Scheider, 1975Getty

He competed in tournaments in Elizabeth, New Jersey — some of which resulted in ailments like a broken nose (which only added to his angular good looks). He went on to post an 11-1 (six knockouts) record, but Scheider admitted he never really wanted to fight.

His keen athleticism not only led him to boxing, but baseball as well. Eventually, though, Scheider traded in his boxing gloves for the stage, studying drama and first appearing with the New York Shakespeare Festival.

Roy Scheider early movies

His first foray onto the big screen was in the campy horror film The Curse of the Living Corpse in 1964. Two soap operas and TV movies later, Scheider’s film career grew with Star! (1968), Paper Lion (1968), Stiletto (1969) and Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970).

Roy Scheider, Jane Fonda , Klute, 1971
Roy Scheider, Jane Fonda, Klute, 1971Getty

His big breaks were just around the Hollywood corner when he appeared in two widely popular films in 1974: the thriller Klute, with Jane Fonda, and The French Connection, playing a fictionalized version of New York City detective Sonny Grosso alongside Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle.

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His performance as a tough street cop, yet slightly more restrained partner to Hackman garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Scheider was now in high demand and would soon show up in supporting roles in The French Conspiracy (1972) and The Outside Man (1972).

Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, The French Connection, 1971
Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, The French Connection, 1971Getty

Due to his performance alongside Hackman, Scheider had his first starring role in The Seven-Ups (1975), something of a follow-up to The French Connection, wherein his character is again based on Grosso. He was then second-billed in Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York (1975).

Jaws and beyond

The Peter Benchley novel Jaws was a best seller, and young filmmaker Steven Spielberg was chosen to direct the adaptation. Scheider portrayed the agonized Chief Martin Brody, and the film also starred Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss.

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Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw, Jaws, 1975
Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw, Jaws, 1975Getty

A big star now, Scheider appeared alongside Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman as secret agent Doc Levy in the unnerving film Marathon Man (1976) — If you have a fear of dentists, don’t go see this movie.

He returned to Amity Island in Jaws 2 (1978), where he fought an even bigger shark. The movie, while not a phenomenal hit, was nonetheless a box office success.

In an effort to get away from big sharks and tough cop roles, Scheider’s next big move was All That Jazz (1979), where he portrayed Joe Gideon, a womanizing, drug-popping choreographer who had a penchant for pretty young women.

Roy Scheider, All That Jazz, 1979
Roy Scheider movies, All That Jazz, 1979Getty

 It was actually a fictionalized version of the film’s director and co-writer Bob Fosse, and became another big hit for Scheider, who landed another Oscar nomination.  

The 1980s were productive years for the actor’s career. Roy Scheider appeared in movies like the disappointing Still of the Night (1982) with Meryl Streep, had a rebound at the box office performance in Blue Thunder (1983) and played a scientist in the 2001 Space Odyssey sequel titled 2010 in 1984.

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Daniel Stern, Roy Scheider and Warren Oates, Blue Thunder, 1983
Daniel Stern, Roy Scheider and Warren Oates, Blue Thunder, 1983Getty

He could also be seen in 52 Pick Up (1986), The Men’s Club (1986), Cohen and Tate (1988), Listen to Me (1989) and Night Game (1989), among others. He eventually moved from leading man to character parts in films such as Russia House (1990) and Romeo is Bleeding (1993).  

The following years saw Scheider play supporting roles in mostly political thrillers, not often box office bonanzas: The Peacekeeper (1997), Executive Target (1997), Chain of Command (2000) and Red Serpent (2003) were a few.

The actor in 1997
Roy Scheider, 1997Getty

One of his more intriguing performances was as the sinister Dr. Benway in the 1991 film adaptation of the novel Naked Lunch. He also played a chief executive being cross examined by Matt Damon’s character in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Returning to Jaws, Scheider narrated and was associate producer of the 2006 Jaws documentary, The Shark Is Still Working.

He completed his scenes for Beautiful Blue Eyes (2009) before passing away at the age of 75 a year earlier. His death resulted from complications of a staph infection after suffering from multiple myeloma for several years. Due to a technical error, production was forced to reshoot certain scenes without him.

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