Tough guy danced on stage, in film


Roy Scheider, a brilliant stage actor who won movie renown as the small-town cop in "Jaws," died Sunday in Little Rock, Ark., of complications from a staph infection. He was 75.

In recent years, Scheider had been diagnosed with blood cancer. In June 2005, he underwent a bone-marrow transplant to treat multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells.

Scheider was nominated for two Oscars: as best actor for his performance as the amphetamine-driven Broadway dance director in "All That Jazz" (1979) and as best supporting actor for his portrayal of Gene Hackman's tough guy partner in 1971's "The French Connection."

"All That Jazz" was pioneering dancer Bob Fosse's intimate slant on the New York theater. Scheider played the Fosse figure (who was the film's co-author and director), and his tour de force performance won him, in addition to the Oscar nomination, wider notice for showing, among other things, that tough guys can dance.

In 1980, Scheider returned to his first love, the stage, where his performance in a production of Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" opposite Blythe Danner and Raul Julia earned him the Drama League of New York award for distinguished performance.

During the '60s, Scheider appeared in a number of stage productions, including a Broadway revival of "Tartuffe" and off-Broadway productions of "Romeo and Juliet," "The Alchemist," "The Nuns" and "The Year Boston Won the Pennant."

But he never stopped playing distinguished character roles in films, notably in "Still of the Night" (1982) and "Blue Thunder" (1983). He was the American spy in "The Russia House" (1990) and a calculating Mafia don in "Romeo Is Bleeding" (1993). He gave authoritative performances in such films as "The Seven-Ups" (1973), "Marathon Man" (1976) and "Sorcerer" (1977).

Scheider was a threatening pimp in his first major film role, playing opposite Jane Fonda's New York call girl in "Klute" (1971), and was another tough guy as Buddy Russo, partnered with Hackman's Popeye Doyle, in William Friedkin's "French Connection." That role prompted producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown to cast him as Police Chief Martin Brody in Steven Spielberg's 1975 summer classic "Jaws."

Scheider was born in 1932 in Orange, N.J., the son of an auto mechanic. At 17, he began swimming and boxing in the New Jersey Diamond Belts Competition, providing him with his tough-guy nose.

He did a three-year stint in the Air Force and later attended Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, where his performance in "Richard III" was reviewed by the New York Times. That brought him to the attention of New York public theater impresario Joseph Papp. Papp gave Scheider his first professional opportunity, playing Mercurio in a 1961 New York Shakespeare Festival production of "Romeo and Juliet."

Scheider became a member of the Lincoln Center Repertory Company and performed at the Boston Arts Festival, the Arena Stage in Washington and the American Repertory.

Tony Gieske contributed to this report.