Childhood & Early Life
Roy Scheider was born on November 10, 1932 in Orange, New Jersey to Irish Catholic mother Anna Scheider and German American Protestant father Roy Bernhard Scheider. Senior Scheider was an auto mechanic by profession.
In his early days, young Scheider had a great passion for athletics. He took part in various baseball and boxing competitions. Weighing 140 lbs, he competed in welterweight category.
He boxed as an amateur for three years from 1946 to 1949 and even competed at the Diamond Gloves Boxing Tournament where he sustained a broken nose. Scheider turned the tournament in his favour after a loss to Myron Greenberg by recording 13 knockout victories back to back.
On the academic front, Scheider attended Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey. He was bit by the acting bug during his student days. He let go off his passion for boxing and instead turned to acting.
He studied drama at Rutgers University and Franklin and Marshall College, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
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Post his studies, he made a short stint in military by serving as an officer in the United States Air Force where he rose to the rank of First Lieutenant. Thereafter, he made his debut on stage with the play, ‘Stephen D’ at the New York Shakespeare Festival for which he even won an Obie Award.
Scheider breakthrough in films came in 1963 with the horror film, ‘The Curse of the Living Corpse’. Following his debut, he was cast in two films in 1968, ‘Star’ and ‘Paper Lion’.
Though he was a couple of films old in the film industry, yet he did not gain popularity until 1971. That year, he played two spectacular roles - the first being for Jane Fonda’s thriller ‘Klute’ and later as Det. Buddy Russo in crime-drama ‘The French Connection’, featuring alongside Gene Hackman. His role of a fictionalized tough street cop won him an Academy Award nomination.
Scheider’s tough street cop role in ‘The French Connection’ was so much appreciated that he bagged yet another tough cop role as NYC Det Buddy Manucci in the 1973 underappreciated ‘The Seven-Ups’. The film had one of the best car chase sequences ever.
In 1975, he portrayed the role of Chief Martin Brody in ‘Jaws’ featuring Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfus. A Steven Spielberg film, it was based on Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel of the same name. The film went on to become a blockbuster and for years remained the highest grossing film of all time. His acting in the film earned him rave reviews.
Following the super successful 'Jaws', he appeared as Doc Levy, a shady secret agent in ‘Marathon Man’ alongside Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. Later, he reunited with ‘The French Connection’ director, William Friedkinfor ‘Sorcerer’ in 1976. It was a remake of the 1953 French film ‘Le Salaire de la peur’.
His next release was for Universal Studios’ ‘Jaws 2’, a sequel to ‘Jaws’. Released in 1978, the film fulfilled a contractual obligation made by Scheider towards Universal Studios for originally staring in ‘The Deer Hunter’.
Year 1979 saw a revamp of image for Scheider’s on-stage persona. Until then known for portraying roles of tough cops, he took a role reversal to play the character of Joe Gideon, a womanizer and drug popping choreographer in ‘All That Jazz’. The film, a semi-autobiographical, was based on the life of Bob Fosse, director and co-writer of the film. ‘All That Jazz’ was a major hit and earned him his second Academy Award nomination.
He followed up the success of ‘All That Jazz’ with the 1983 flick, ‘Blue Thunder’. A John Badham film, it revolves around a fictitious technologically-advanced prototype attack helicopter which provided security over Los Angeles during the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.
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In 1984, he starred in Peter Hyams’ ‘2010’ capping the role of Dr Heywood Floyd.The film was a sequel to the 1968’s science fiction classic film,‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.
He started the decade of 1990s featuring as a smart-talking CIA operative with MI6 in ‘The Russia House’ alongside Sean Connery. Next year, he starred as Dr Benway in the film adaptation of William S. Burroughs' novel ‘Naked Lunch’. In 1994, he played a mob boss in the Gary Oldman crime film ‘Romeo Is Bleeding’. Three years later, he appeared as a CEO of a corrupt insurance company in John Grisham's ‘The Rainmaker’.
In the new millennium, he featured in a couple of films, some of which include ‘Daybreak’, ‘The Doorway’, ‘Time Lapse’, ‘The Punisher’, ‘The Poet’,‘If I Didn't Care’ and ‘Chicago 10’.
Other than films, he played the lead role of Captain Nathan Bridger in Steven Spielberg’s tele-series, ‘Sea Quest DSV’. In it, he served as the captain of a futuristic submarine. Scheider appeared for three seasons of the show. He also guest-starred as Fyodor Chevchenko on the NBC television series ‘Third Watch’.
Acting apart, Scheider played host to the television show ‘Saturday Night Live’. He also gave his voice for several episodes of the television series ‘Family Guy’. He guest-starred in ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ episode ‘Endgame’ as serial killer Mark Ford Brady. He even narrated and produced 2006 Jaw’s documentary ‘The Shark is Still Working’. Posthumously, two of his movies released, a horror flick ‘Dark Honeymoon’ and thriller ‘Iron Cross’. In the latter he portrayed Joseph, a holocaust survivor with a propensity for justice. The film was inspired by director Joshua Newton’s late father Bruno Newton. ‘Iron Cross’ was released in 2011.
In his more than forty decades of acting career, Scheider gave some of the most scintillating performances which kept the audience hungry for more. His best came in the decade of 1970s when he featured in big blockbusters, including, ‘The French Connection’, ‘Jaws’, ‘Jaws 2’, ‘Marathon Man’, ‘Sorcerer’ and ‘All That Jazz’. ‘Jaws’ was a major smash hit and went on to become the highest grossing film of all time, a record it held for years. It was the first film in the history of cinema to gross more than $100 million. His most famous line in ‘Jaws’, the ad-libbed ‘You're gonna need a bigger boat,’ was voted No. 35 on the American Film Institute's list of best quotes from movies.
In 1985, he was inducted in his Alma mater, Columbia High School’s Hall of Fame.
In 2007, he received one of the two annually-presented Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Sun Deis Film Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts.
In his four decades career, he twice received Academy Award nominations, one Golden Globe and one BAFTA nomination.
Personal Life & Legacy
Scheider twice married in his lifetime. His first marriage was to Cynthia Bebout in 1962. The couple was blessed with a daughter, Maximillia. They divorced in 1986.
He then married actress Brenda Siemer in 1989. With her, he had a son, Christian. The couple adopted a daughter Molly. They remained married until his death in 2008.
In 2004, Scheider was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of white blood cells. He underwent a bone marrow transplantation to treat the cancer in June 2005.
His bad health condition relapsed in 2008 causing his death on February 10, 2008, in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Hospital. Reports claimed the cause of his death as complications from a staph infection.
Posthumously a biography titled ‘Roy Scheider: A Life’ was released to pay tribute to the life and works of Scheider. It included compiling reviews, essays and narration on his life and extensive career.