When Roy Scheider died of complications from multiple myeloma on Feb. 10 at 75, it was hard not to think of the finale of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979), which earned Scheider a Oscar nomination for Best Actor. As Fosse’s surrogate, a womanizing choreographer with a cigarette permanently jutting out the side of his mouth, Scheider brings the film — and his character’s life — to a dazzling end with ”Bye-Bye Life,” an exuberant but chilling dream-sequence musical number that also marked the end of the actor’s remarkable run through 1970s cinema.
The lean, rugged New Jersey native — and onetime Diamond Gloves boxer — was, of course, best known as Chief Brody from 1975’s Jaws, and he began that decade on a high, earning his other Oscar nomination for a breakout role as Gene Hackman’s partner, Buddy Russo, in 1971’s The French Connection. ”He was a very serious worker,” says Sonny Grosso, the real-life inspiration for the Russo character. ”I gave him my gun, I gave him my watch, and I wasn’t sure if he didn’t want my shorts, too. I’ve done a lot of cop shows in my time, but no actor ever got as involved as Roy.”
After the 1970s, Scheider continued to work steadily in movies (Blue Thunder, 2010, The Rainmaker) and TV (NBC’s seaQuest DSV), but those opportunities rarely matched his career-defining early projects. Still, says his Jaws costar Richard Dreyfuss, ”he was a graceful, good-hearted guy, and that [disappointment] never got in his way.” Adds French Connection director William Friedkin: ”He’s underappreciated. He didn’t get the kind of attention he should’ve gotten for French Connection, and All That Jazz will stand the test of time. It really is one of the finest performances by an American actor in a movie.”
(For more of William Friedkin on Scheider, go to ew.com/scheider)