One of America's great actors has passed away at the age of 75. It's hard to imagine anyone who grew up loving American cinema from 1970 on who doesn't admire Roy Scheider. Roy was one of the guys who added so much to any film that he graced as a supporting character and was also capable of delivering some of the most memorably intense leading work of the past few decades as well.
Scheider was born in East, New Jersey in the late fall of 1932. Interested in sports as a child and teenager, he turned his attentions to the stage when he was at college. After a stint in the services in the sixties he began appearing with the New York State Shakespeare festival in 1968.
Although Scheider had a few film and television roles throughout the sixties, his film career took off, appropriately enough in 1970, with roles in Irvin Kershner’s Loving, and Jerry Schatzberg’s Puzzle Of A Downfall Child. Scheider really broke through in 1971 with memorable turns in two of the seventies best films, Alan Pakula’s Klute and William Friedkin’s The French Connection.
The French Connection brought stardom to Schneider, who delivered a thrilling and great performance as Detective Buddy Russo. Opposite Gene Hackman’s volcanically flawed Popeye Doyle, Scheider’s 1st time appearance in a Friedkin film remains contains some of his finest work. Roy would receive a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his turn as Russo and should have won it.
Several more American and European productions followed, including Jacque Deray’s A Man Is Dead (1972) and Philip D’Antoni’s awesome The Seven-Ups before Scheider struck cinematic gold again with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975. As Police Chief Martin Brody, Scheider delivers the most popular performance of his career in one of the seventies most beloved films. Honestly, Scheider has always been my favorite part of the film and his work was unfairly overlooked by the Academy in what was admittedly a highly competitive year.
Roy followed up Jaws with two even greater films, John Schlesinger’s The Marathon Man (1976) opposite Dustin Hoffman and William Friedkin’s powerful Sorcerer (1977) in which he had the lead role.
While Scheider’s second film with Friedkin was a failure upon release, many lovers of American cinema in the seventies, myself included, consider it to be one of the true high water marks of the period. As the obsessed and destroyed Jackie Scanlon, Scheider delivers a mesmerizing and unforgettable turn that remains one of my all time favorite performances.
Jaws 2 (1978) and Last Embrace (1979) followed Sorcerer before Scheider received the other great role of his career in Bob Fosse’s 1979 masterpiece, All That Jazz. Playing Fosse’s alter ego, stage director Joe Gideon, Scheider garnered the second and final Oscar nomination of his life. All That Jazz is one of my favorite films and a lot of that is due to Scheider’s haunting turn as the womanizing and doomed Gideon. There are few actors who have ever been so sublimely great as Roy Scheider is in this film. If he had done nothing else, All That Jazz would have been enough to make him an acting legend in my book.
Gideon wore Scheider out and he took a break for more than two years after. He returned in a really splendid and little seen thriller entitled Still Of The Night (1982) for director Robert Benton. This Hitchcock homage teamed him up with a lovely Meryl Streep and it remains one of the early eighties missing in action treasures.
Roy would score a small hit with 1983’s Blue Thunder and would hit genre pay dirt with John Frankenheimer’s seedy Elmore Leonard adaptation 52 Pick-Up (1986) opposite Ann-Margret.
After 1989’s Cohen and Tate, Scheider began appearing more and more in memorable supporting roles and he worked consistently throughout the nineties and well into this decade. Some of my favorite films that he appeared in throughout this period include The Russia House (1990), Naked Lunch (1991), Romeo Is Bleeding (1993), The Myth Of The Fingerprints (1997), and The Peacekeeper (1998).
Roy Scheider most recently could be seen in last year’s If I Didn’t Care and he had finished two films that are coming out later this year, Dark Honeymoon and Iron Cross in which he has the lead as a retired New York Detective.
Roy Scheider was a great actor and a consummate professional. His work in films like The French Connection, Jaws, Sorcerer and All That Jazz will be looked at and studied for decades to come. I really loved this guy and I am very sorry to see that he has left us. My best to his family and friends.
I will continue paying a more visual tribute to Scheider throughout the day at Harry Moseby Confidential for those who would like to join me in remembering this wonderful man and actor.