I’d like to take a moment here at the ol’ blog to pay tribute to one of my all-time favorite actors, old-school veteran Roy Scheider, who died yesterday afternoon at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, AK. He was 75.
Scheider will most likely always be best known for his steady leading man performance as Police Chief Martin Brody in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster classic, Jaws. And as terrific a performance as that is, there was so much more to him than just that. For me, Scheider always brought sly humor, cool toughness, and subtle intelligence to all of his performances, as evidenced not only by his work in Jaws, but in a number of other film roles as well: as Gene Hackman’s low-key partner in The French Connection (1971); an American scientist who goes on the galactic journey of a lifetime in 2010 (1984); a blackmailed businessman who takes justice into his own hands in 52 Pick-Up (1986); and a cruel, emotionally abusive patriarch in The Myth of Fingerprints (1997). Even though Scheider eventually came to prominence as an unlikely leading man, he could often make the most of smaller supporting roles, as he did in such films as Klute (1971), Marathon Man (1976), and The Russia House (1990).
For me, though, Scheider’s triumph will always be his performance as Joe Gideon in Bob Fosse’s gloriously messy, imaginative, self-indulgent, and spectacularly entertaining 1979 film, All That Jazz. He brought all of his usual trademarks in portraying Fosse’s alter-ego, a hard-living, chain-smoking, womanizing director-choreographer who knows how to charm his way out of almost any situation. But he learned to sing and dance for the role, and did so in such convincing fashion (he was about 47 when did All That Jazz) that you’d never guess he hadn’t done either before. It’s the kind of performance that makes one re-consider a familiar face in a whole new light. Not surprisingly, this was also Scheider’s personal favorite out of all the roles he’d played.
In an obituary posted on Yahoo! this morning, actor Richard Dreyfuss called Scheider “a knockaround actor [which] to me is a compliment that means a professional that lives the life of a professional actor and doesn’t yell and scream at the fates and does his job and does it as well as he can.” Indeed. Not only did his body of work speak to that, but he was regarded as such by many of his actor colleagues. My father knew Scheider from way back and always had nothing but the very best things to say about him.
In closing, I’d like to direct you to a film clip of the singing-dancing finale of All That Jazz, in which Scheider teams up with none other than Ben Vereen (be forewarned, however, the last several seconds of the clip spoil the very ending of the movie). May it inspire you to check out the rest of this knockaround actor’s outstanding body of work. You will definitely be glad that you did.
(For more on Roy, check out film director William Friedkin’s candid remembrances of him here.)