Roy Scheider died Sunday night... I heard about it yesterday. He was 75. He was a great presence and power of example as an actor: not a show-off, nothing to prove, no chip on his shoulder - the panther-like grace with which he moved in ALL THAT JAZZ or as Jane Fonda's smooth pimp in KLUTE was just how he was, or could be. There was no "Love me! Love Me!" grandstanding with this man.
L.A. scribe Kim Morgan has written a fine eulogy:
"Even with his dazzling, womanizing, pill popping triumph in All That Jazz and that iconic showdown with the world’s most famous shark, I can’t think of any bells and whistles and "I’m walking here!" moments associated with Scheider. He typically wasn’t a scene chewer and chose to mark his territory with a unique, subtle (and uniquely subtle) power that was so world-weary and frequently moving (even when playing a psycho) that he resonated with a curious mixture of timeless recognition and absolute mystery."
Damn right. I could write a 30 page paper on what the climactic "Bye Bye Life" number in ALL THAT JAZZ meant to me as an alienated 14-16 year old. But this is time to remember Roy Scheider, not my own grandiloquent teenage melancholia. Let's leave it at this: Scheider's generosity of spirit in that role was such that he reached down and handed me a path out of my self-absorbed depression. If he could be that cool, calm and collected while singing a joyful adieu to his own life in tight pants and open chest hair glitter shirt, then who was I--with my whole life ahead of me--to be cowering inside at home in a haze of self-centered fear and free-floating anxiety? In other words, watching Roy Scheider, I learned to dance.
Like a great older brother or cool father, Scheider showed strength without bullying, grace without mincing, and style without pomposity. Most of all, in those tired eyes we saw a reflection of what's best in ourselves--a hard-won universal love--and his Cheshire cat grin, which only got wider even as he danced the mashed potato into the hungry jaws of death. All who needed sustenance were welcome to follow his warm light through the darkened terrors of the deep. We did, we do... we will.