Scheider was a terrific actor, one who will always be remembered for Jaws (1975). In that Spielberg film he brilliantly essayed the role of Chief Brody of Amity and wasn't afraid to reveal the character's weak side. Yes Brody was a protagonist. Yes he was a police officer. But Brody was damn scared of the water and that great white shark. Part of what made the film so involving was Scheider's pitch-perfect performance, his utter believability in the role, and the fact that audiences identified with both his fear and his humanity.
Looking across the scope of Scheider's impressive career, you can see he brought the same skill and dedication to a variety of landmark roles. I remember Still of the Night, an early 80s psychological thriller in which he played a therapist becoming involved with a femme fatale (Meryl Streep) and a case of murder. Again, audiences identified with Scheider's character and in the film's tense moments - on a lonely walk through Central Park, or a late-night visit to a laundry room in an apartment building basement - we were totally with Scheider's character and facing those problems with him.
In 2010 (1984), the scene I remember most vividly is the one involving a frightened Scheider as he embraces a female Russian astronaut during a crisis. The two scared, tiny humans huddled together in fear while their ship conducted a dangerous maneuver in outer space, and again, Scheider was our surrogate and emotional barometer: registering the fear and anxiety of a place we have never been, in a situation we have never experienced. But he made it feel real and vivid.
And then there's Scheider's brilliant, unimpeachable work in All that Jazz (1979), as a man forever reckoning with clocks - both internal and external - and the irrevocable slippage of time. That character (a Bob Fosse surrogate) faced his mortal reckoning at the end of that film; a reckoning on a surgical table. Once more, Scheider was utterly authentic and heartbreaking in the role.
Scheider made Jaws II (1978) worth seeing. He transformed Blue Thunder (1983) from a run-of-the-mill action-thriller into a blockbuster. He gave audiences decades of enjoyment and entertainment, and this week, we lost a truly great American actor.