Roy Scheider by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage.com
. Everybody remembers
as Chief Brody. Partly because it's impossible to imagine anyone else as the small-town family man forced to wage war on a prehistoric eating machine with only a nebbish and a psychopath as allies, and partly because the one-two punch of
changed American movies forever.
- let alone being the guy who summed up the man vs. shark odds in the laconic observation, "You're gonna need a bigger boat" - eclipsed everything.
But Scheider made his first movie in 1964 and his last three in 2007. He didn't die painfully young like Heath Ledger. But his soft, gravelly voice, off-kilter good looks Scheider beat Owen Wilson to broken-nosed sexiness by decades and air of lean, secretly damaged authority were such a familiar presence in TV and movies, large and small, that it was hard to imagine it ever being gone. And now Scheider is.
Born and raised in Orange, New Jersey, Scheider was lean and athletic; not a gym rat, but a serious amateur boxer (hence the nose) who pumped gas as a teenager and spent three years in the Air Force before he started acting.
He began on the stage - wrap your mind around Chief Brody as Romeo's cynical cousin Mercutio in
Romeo and Juliet
, at the New York Shakespeare Festival no less - and got into movies by way of the quintessential skeleton in the celluloid closet,
The Horror of Party Beach
schlockmeister Del Tenney's eminently forgettable
Curse of the Living Corpse
By 1971 he was an Oscar nominee for William Friedkin's
The French Connection
(1971), playing the marginally cooler partner of Gene Hackman's loose-cannon cop Popeye Doyle.
When you think gritty, '70s New York movies, you should be thinking Scheider: Alan J. Pakula's
, as call-girl Jane Fonda's ex-pimp, John Schlesinger's
, as Dustin Hoffman's mysterious brother,
producer-turned-director Philip D'Antoni's
, as another hard-nosed cop.
Scheider gave a genuinely harrowing performance as a mentally unbalanced ex-cop in Jonathan Demme's sleek thriller
, and scored a second Oscar nomination playing a self-destructive choreographer in
creator Bob Fosse's semiautobiographical
All That Jazz
. The 1980s weren't kind to actors like Scheider, favoring pretty boys and cartoonish action heroes.
But he never phoned it in, and, given material he could work with, Scheider unleashed that perfectly controlled intensity and lit it up: Check out his performance as a hit man in the seriously underrated
Cohen and Tate
(1986). And he just kept on making the most of what came his way - look at his small turn in
(2004) as revenger Frank Castle's father.
I'm glad I can look forward to
, but oh, how I wish there were more.