Late in the day on 10 February, 2008, I saw on the news website a headline: Jaws Actor Dies at 75. Roy Scheider had passed away. A wave of sadness came over me and I felt the world had lost a great person. I never knew him personally, but I have seen so much of him in many films, and of course as Frank Murphy in Blue Thunder, and now I write this article as a tribute to the great actor.
By Andrew Gilchrist, 2009
Roy Scheider has been a part of my life in a significant way. One interest of mine that has been with me since as long as I can remember is aviation, or more specifically, helicopters. The most entertaining experience regarding helicopters for me is Blue Thunder, and flying Blue Thunder was Frank Murphy, played by Roy Scheider. So in a way, he has been a hero to me for a long time. In the film, he steals the evil weapon and uses it to save the day. What a guy.
When I learnt the news that he had passed away, it was a sad day for me. We hear news of tragic events far away every day: terrorism, natural disasters, car accidents, plane crashes. We ponder the news for a moment and then get on with our lives. But when Roy passed away, it left me with a sad feeling for the rest of the day. I guess you could say it was unusual for me.
Having seen him in so many films, I felt that I knew him in a small way.
The first film that I saw him in was quite possibly Blue Thunder, although it may have been Jaws. The last film I saw him in was 52 Pick-Up. One day my father brought home several large boxes of Betamax video tapes, containing hundreds of films. Among those tapes was Blue Thunder and I instantly fell in love with this film. Although it had nudity, swearing and violence, I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time and it has become my all-time favorite film. In fact, I run a website all about it.
But enough about me, let's talk about Roy Richard Scheider. Roy was born in Orange, New Jersey in the USA on 10 November, 1932. This year sees Japan continuing its invading expansion in China and surrounding countries, the Mars Bar is sold for the first time and Ghandi is arrested. Anthony Perkins (actor from Psycho), Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barret (both actresses from Star Trek) and Robert Vaughn (actor from Man from U.N.C.L.E.) are also born this year.
Growing up as an athletic young man, Roy played baseball and did boxing, which left him with his characteristic damaged nose. In college, he pursued activities in theatre and studied drama at Rutger and Franklin and Marshall. Roy joined the military and later appeared in the New York Shakespeare Festival, winning an Obie Award for his appearance in the play Stephen D.
His Hollywood career began with a very low budget horror film called The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964) before appearing in more sensible dramas Star! (1968), Paper Lion (1968), Stiletto (1969) and Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970). Roy then appeared in a Jane Fonda thriller called Klute (1971) before playing Gene Hackman's police partner in The French Connection that same year.
The French Connection was the earliest film that I have seen him play in. It follows events loosely based on a real international drug bust that stays mostly on the urban streets of America. Roy plays a tough cop who accompanies Gene Hackman's hard "Popeye" Doyle as they investigate, uncover and try to catch the head of the drug operation red-handed. It can be slow at times but it is mostly well known for the infamous car-train chase through the streets of San Fransisco.
After chasing and failing to catch his bad guy, detective Gene Hackman commandeers a civilian's car to chase the train that his target now hijacks. The train goes through station after station as Hackman drives madly through the streets below it to keep up and catch him at the final station. What results is a some very impressive old style car action that was infamous because for some scenes they did not have a permit and had an unplanned collision. Gene Hackman also did some of the driving himself.
For a couple of years after The French Connection, Roy did television work appearing in Cannon, To Be Young, Gifted and... Black and Assignment: Munich. Roy has been quoted as saying that during this time, he was inundated constantly with police thriller scripts after his work on The French Conenction. He said that every single script was the same and he didn't want to do that again.
However, 1973 saw a new action crime thriller called The Seven-Ups come his way. Roy plays a cop with the same name as his character in The French Connection, but I'm not sure if it was connected or not. However, while this film can also be a little slow at times, the viewer is rewarded by one of the greatest car chases through city streets ever captured on film. Roy's character discovers the killing of another cop when a car starts and roars off. Running out into the street, Roy screams off in his Chevy after them. Driving at high speed through city traffic and out onto highways, it ends in the most unexpected ending. Definitely a scene to watch for all Roy Scheider fans. The driving was done by the same people behind the famous car chase in Bullit.
Terror in the Ocean
In 1975, director Steven Speilberg and Roy Scheider, along with Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, carried Jaws along to become one of the most successful films ever made. The story follows Roy who plays a family-orientated cop who patrols a holiday island where a shark begins to attack local swimmers. Enlisting the help of an experienced fisherman and a marine scientist, Roy goes out to sea to track and destroy this beast. Jaws restarted the concept of "less is more" terror. We never really see the shark until the end of the film, but what it does before then terrified many people and kept them from swimming again for a while.
Roy Scheider than appeared in Marathon Man (1976), an interesting political crime thriller starring Dustin Hoffman, Sorcerer (1977) and the sequel to Jaws, Jaws 2 (1978). He then appeared in an adventure murder mystery called Last Embrace before playing a drug-crazed, womanising out-of-control stage dancer called Joe Gideon in All That Jazz (1979). The film follows the events as he loses control of his life and perhaps shows Roy at his most dramatic and challenging best.
Sorcerer (1977) looks like it would be an interesting film but I've never been able to see it. I have the soundtrack done by Tangerine Dream and it is a beautiful electronic synthesized collection of melodies and sounds. The film is about a fire that breaks out at a South American oil mining company in the jungle. In order to save the day, explosives must be used in an attempt led by an American mobster and a group of men. I hope one day to see this film, directed by the same director as The French Connection.
During this time, Roy was in a deal with Universal to play in three films. The Vietnam War / veterans film The Deer Hunter was one of them and Roy had a big disagreement over some aspects of the film, choosing to not play a part in it. This upset the people at Universal and Roy wanted to get out of the deal. The agreed only if he would make Jaws 2, which he did.
Terror in the Skies
Roy's next big break was as rebellious helicopter pilot Frank Murphy in Blue Thunder (1983). Although hesitant at first to play in a film involving lots of helicopters (he was tired of riding in helicopters due to his extensive location work done in Sorcerer), he later realised that Blue Thunder contained a great message warning of the threat to personal privacy and Big Brotherism. With John Badham, he made this mildly-successful action film that has paid helicopters great attention like no other film, except for the Airwolf television property.
Roy was involved in television work again before landing the role of Dr Heywood Floyd in the follow up to Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's 's cult sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In the original film, an alien object appears on prehistoric Earth and influences pre-man apes to use tools. It cuts to the future where the same object is dug up on the moon. It then sends a signal to general area of Jupiter. A space mission is sent to investigate, discovering a larger version of the object and the following events have been debated and intepreted by many different people over the past 40 years.
2010 (known as Odyssey Two in book form) was the film production of Arthur C. Clarke's second novel in the 2001 series. In this film, the original planner of the first mission accompanies colleagues on a Russian-teamed starship to go and find out what happened to the first mission. While a US-Soviet war breaks out back on Earth, the teams have to work together to bring the lost ship of the first mission back to Earth for examination, but while they're out there, a series of strange events occur.
Although greatly criticised and considered a bit of a flop when it was released, I enjoy 2010 immensely. Seeing Roy Scheider out in space with John Lithgow and all the seriousness of the 2001 world makes a great film.
After 2010, Roy returned back to Earth to play in films called The Men's Club (1986), 52 Pick-Up (1986), Cohen and Tate (1988), Listen To Me (1989) and Night Game (1989). These films rounded off the '80s for Roy and I think the pick of the bunch of 52 Pick-Up. This is a film about a man who is blackmailed by men who have footage of Roy cheating on his wife with another woman. They get him to pay them $52,000 but Roy takes matters into his own hands, investigating them and finding out who they are, and with the aid of his beautiful Jaguar E-Type, exacts revenge on these men who tried to cross him.
A New Beginning
By the 1990s, Roy's films seem to confirm that he had dropped out of the big league status. I hate to say it, but during this time, I didn't see any of his work until SeaQuest: DSV came along. Roy had had a small run in television and this could be considered a new big direction for him. He played Captain Nathan Bridger, commander of a futuristic submarine called SeaQuest that went on scientific and security missions.
SeaQuest: DSV had all the hallmarks of a typical sci-fi series, right down to the annoying, genius kid who sometimes saved the day. I watched most of this series during its first run, however I don't remember much of it except for the pilot episode where Roy's character is grudgingly called out of retirement to command the super new vessel and the genius, annoying kid becomes best friends with a dolphin that helps save the day. One day I'd like to see it again, but for now I am not in a rush.
This television show kept Roy busy and he didn't make any films during this period, getting back into his film career in 1997 after some voice narrating work.
Roy also did work narrating a series of sea war documentaries that were very interesting. I cannot recall what they were called but I watched all of them and didn't know until the end of the first episode that it was him. The voice was familiar but I couldn't place it, then a big smile came across my face when I saw his name.
Roy After SeaQuest: DSV
Roy's personal life revealed that he married twice to wives Chinthia Scheider and Brenda King, and had three children: two daughters Maximillia and Molly, and one son: Christian.
From 1997 until his death, Roy played supporting parts in a series of mostly straight-to-video films with a sprinkle of television work. Of these films, I have only seen Daybreak, where he plays a chief who supervises the rescue of people trapped in a subway or tunnel after a gas explosion.
In about 2007, I got to see him talking in the documentaries on the Blue Thunder special edition DVD. It was great to see him and he was clearly passionate about his experiences in Blue Thunder, which made me feel good about watching it again.
I had begun writing a sequel to Blue Thunder a few years ago, involving today's terrorism and Roy playing Frank Murphy again, but as an older character in charge of the police helicopter division. He would have made a great cranky chief in the part that Warren Oates played in the original. When he passed away, I felt a great amount of enthusiasm leave my passion for the project and I felt that any Blue Thunder sequel would simply not be the same without Roy Scheider in it.
Who could possibly replace him? Perhaps Brian Brown? He was the Australian actor originally considered for the part of Frank Murphy in Blue Thunder. I don't know if it'd work, but they do look very similar and, me being Australian, it might be interesting.
After ungoing a bone marrow transplant treatment in 2005, Roy passed away in hospital in Little Rock, Arkanasas USA, at the age of 75 on 10 Febrary, 2008. He died from multiple myeloma, which is a disease affecting the bone and other parts of the body. As news of his death spread, most reports concentrated on his role in Jaws. I didn't see one report mentioning Blue Thunder, but I am not surprised as Jaws was a major success and inspired countless imitators.
Farewell, Roy Scheider. I hope you are in a better place. You will always be a hero to me.