By Robert Simonson
10 Feb 2008
Mr. Scheider, who was born in Orange, NJ, in 1932, was imbued with a naturalistic, rough-hewn intensity, and a lean, masculine face which suited the film industry of the 1970s, when experimental directors were searching for actors with greater street authenticity. His breakthrough came in 1971 when he played a pimp in "Klute," and, the same year, was Det. Buddy Russo, Gene Hackman's partner in the brutal police thriller "The French Connection." The latter part earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
He won international stardom as the police chief of a small harbor town trying to grapple with the arrival of a killer shark in the blockbuster "Jaws." Playing opposite Robert Shaw's deranged seaman and Richard Dreyfuss' excitable scientist, Mr. Scheider's realistic performance anchored the horror thriller in a humane reality. He also appeared in "Jaws II" three years later.
His second and last Oscar nomination came for Bob Fosse's autobiographical movie musical "All That Jazz," in which Mr. Scheider, lean, bearded and clad in black, played an onscreen version of the self-destructive choreographer-director as he veered toward professional and personal disaster. The film called upon Mr. Scheider to sing and dance, as well as act; his success in acquitting himself in these fields surprised many critics.
Following youthful forays into the military and sports (his broken nose was the result of the New Jersey Diamond Gloves Competition), he moved to New York to try acting. His professional debut was at Joe Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival, playing Mercutio in a production of Romeo and Juliet. He won an Obie Award for his appearance in the play Stephen D in 1967, and made his Broadway debut in 1965 in a William Ball-directed production of Tartuffe at the ANTA Washington Square. Other theatre credits include The Alchemist and The Year Boston Won the Pennant.
In 2003, he starred in the title role in Christopher Trumbo's work Trumbo at the Westside Theatre.
He continued to work in films into the 1980s and 1990s, but his opportunities were not as memorable as his landmark '70s movies. Among his credits of this time were "Blue Thunder," "2010," "52 Pick-Up," "The Fourth War" and "Romeo Is Bleeding."
He is survived by his wife, Brenda Seimer, and three children, Christian Verrier Scheider and Molly Mae Scheider, with Ms. Seimer, and Maximillia Connelly Lord, from an earlier marriage, to Cynthia Bebout.