To many movie goers, Roy Scheider will eternally be Police Chief Martin C. Brody. Scheider was, somehow, always able to portray his characters in ways that made it impossible for audiences not to feel connected to them, despite their flaws and errors in judgement. Even as a bewildered Police Chief trying to make sense of a outlandish situation, he managed to draw us all in.
However Roy Scheider was of course much more than that.
Born and raised in Orange, New Jersey, Scheider's hard-to-pinpoint persona manifested very early on in his life. Already in high school - and later on in college - he was focusing on two diametrically opposing challenges: boxing and acting. His memorable, angular face that was much to his advantage in the latter pursuit was obviously the result of the former. Boxing broke his nose not once, but twice, first in 1947 and later in 1950. No palooka, after years of boxing in the amateur cirquits Scheider had earned quite a reputation for himself, and was well-respected in the ring. After his first nose-breaking loss in 1947, he proceeded to win every single bout he ever fought, all by KO and most in the first round. In 1953 he unexpectedly hung up his gloves, and in his uncharacteristically characteristical fashion enlisted.
|Scheider in The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964).|
His military career as an Air Force officer lasted all of 3 years, but then he returned to his acting pursuit anew. Not one to be easily pigeonholed, he returned to the boxing ring in 1958, but the one-off match was to be his final bout in the ring.
Needless to say, he won by KO in the first round.
"We're Gonna need a Bigger Boat"
Throughout the '70s it seemed Scheider could do not much wrong. In 1971 he got his first Academy Award nomination for his role in The French Connection. In 1975 he starred in the low-budget film that he is perhaps best remembered for: Jaws. He capped off the decade in 1979 with his second Academy Award nomination for his role in All That Jazz.
The '80s were not as kind to Scheider as the previous decade was. Due to somewhat murky contractual obligations he was forced to star in the very much lesser movie Jaws 2, instead of being the star in The Deer Hunter, a role Scheider had focused his efforts on and had lobbied very hard to get. The role in The Deer Hunter went to Robert De Niro, and Scheider's luck began changing. Jaws 2 was panned by audiences and critics alike, rightly so and due to issues beyond Scheider's control, but his career took a severe beating from which it never really recovered.
In the '80s Scheider took on enormously varied roles. Sometimes he was overshadowed by the special effects and the technology, such as in Blue Thunder and why not 2010. In every movie, however, he always portrayed the characters with his professional 'everyman' authority. Described by his colleagues as endearing, honest, and 'a delight to work with' (in 2010 director Peter Hyams' words), Scheider could always bring the audience inside the movie. The way he approached the characters and the stories let the audiences see the events through the character's eyes, and ultimately of course his.
After remarrying in 1989 and starting a family he took on fewer and fewer roles, instead devoting his time to his family, spending time with his wife and raising their kids.
A peace activist and engaged in environmental issues, Scheider's everyman was not just his job persona, it was very much who he was. Eschewing the Hollywood ivory towers he was just one amongst many, the neighbor guy, the ordinary man protesting the Vietnam War or the Iraq War. And yes, Scheider protested both. In fact he became more vocal about his country's involvement in Iraq the older he got.
In February of 2008, after several years battling multiple myeloma, Roy Scheider passed through the veil. The next day would have been his wedding anniversary.
Roy Scheider was 75.
Image copyright ©1964 20th Century Fox.