One of the most unique and distinguished of all Hollywood actors, Roy Scheider first hit his career peak in the 1970s, and will forever be associated with the "American film renaissance" of that decade thanks to his prominent billing in four vital motion pictures from the period: The French Connection (1971), Klute (1971), Jaws (1975), and All That Jazz (1979). As this list demonstrates, Scheider exhibited versatility in choice of material. He also, however, established a trademark persona that carried him from project to project: that of a slightly sardonic, wizened everyman who nonetheless evinced an unmistakable degree of sensitivity and emotional fragility beneath a tough exterior. Born November 10, 1932, in Rutgers, New Jersey, Scheider attended Rutgers University, as well as Franklin and Marshall College, where he studied history; meanwhile, an early boxing injury (in the New Jersey Diamond Gloves Competition) left Scheider with a broken nose that would soon become one of his trademarks. He subsequently joined the United States Air Force and served three years, ascending to the rank of first lieutenant, then returned to Franklin and Marshall for drama work, beginning with a much-acclaimed performance in Shakespeare's Richard III.
Scheider inaugurated his professional career as a thespian by cutting his chops on the New York stage, as Mercutio in the New York Shakespeare Festival's 1961 production of Romeo and Juliet, and appeared in a couple of shoestring-budget cheapies (such as the 1963 Curse of the Living Corpse). Additional movie roles followed, but the actor really only made his breakthrough in 1971, with two of the said parts -- in Klute (as the pimp of hooker Bree Daniels) and in William Friedkin's groundbreaking cop thriller The French Connection (as Buddy Russo, the somewhat low-key and subdued partner of Gene Hackman's manic Popeye Doyle). An additional cop role, in The Seven-Ups (1973), followed, but by this point, Scheider had reportedly grown concerned that he would be pegged and typecast as a policeman and decided to branch out with an offbeat turn in the romantic comedy Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York (1975). When that picture unequivocally flopped, Steven Spielberg helped rescue Scheider (and in many ways put the actor on the proverbial map) by casting him as the lead, Police Chief Martin Brody, in the blockbuster shocker Jaws (1975). After this, roles proliferated; Scheider evoked a death-wish-laden Bob Fosse in the gonzo musical drama All That Jazz (1979, a part he inherited from Jaws co-star Richard Dreyfuss), and also chalked up a series of leads in Hitchcockian thrillers including Jonathan Demme's The Last Embrace (1979) and Robert Benton's Still of the Night (1982).
Scheider remained equally active through the 1980s and '90s, though his choice of projects waxed slightly more uneven, ranging from the inspired (1986's 52 Pick-Up, 1990's The Russia House) to the abysmal (1986's The Men's Club). The actor retained a firm hold on his craft, however, and delivered some of the finest work of his career late in the game, with prominent roles in David Cronenberg's 1991 Naked Lunch (as a wiseacre physician) and Bart Freundlich's family-themed psychodrama The Myth of Fingerprints (1997, as a seriously deranged father with a seedy and twisted past). The 1990s also found Scheider embarking on a television career for the first time, with a regular role as Captain Nathan Hale Bridger in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi adventure series seaQuest DSV (1993-1996). Scheider would return to television a decade later, with a recurring portrayal of Fyodor Chevchenko on the prime-time drama Third Watch; in the mean time, the actor continued to tackle roles in additional features and even direct-to-video movies, including Time Lapse (2001), Red Serpent (2002), Wes Craven Presents Dracula II: Ascension (2003), and The Poet (2007). By the mid-2000s, Scheider contracted multiple myeloma and began to suffer from related health problems; he died in February 2008 of complications from a staph infection. The actor was 75. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi