Monday, February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider

From Jeffery Wells and Hollywood Elsewhere:

Roy Scheider is gone
Posted by Jeffrey Wells on February 10, 2008 at 06:20 PM

Roy Scheider, who had a brilliant eleven-year run as a near-movie star during the '70s and early '80s, portraying a series of anxious, somewhat bruised urban hard guys in a nearly unbroken run of top-drawer films, died this afternoon in Little Rock, Arkansas, according to the N.Y. Times. He was 75 years old.

Scheider had "suffered from multiple myeloma for several years, and died of complications from a staph infection," his wife told the Times.

Scheider's eleven-year hot streak began with his breakout performance as "Cloudy", Gene Hackman's partner in William Freidkin's The French Connection ('71). His next two films, The Seven-Ups and Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York, were substandard but Scheider scored big with his Chief Brody role in Steven Spielberg's Jaws ('75). He was almost as good the following year as Dustin Hoffman's older intelligence-racket brother in John Schlesinger's Marathon Man ('76).

For me, Scheider's peak was his lead role in Freidkin's Sorcerer ('77) in which he played the role that Yves Montand became famous for in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Wages of Fear, the 1955 French film that Sorcerer was a remake of.

His performance in Jonathan Demme's Last Embrace ('78) was emotionally raw and close to the bone. He was even stronger as a Bob Fosse-like character -- a self-destructive womanizing choreographer -- in Fosse's All That Jazz ('79). I saw Scheider give a gripping, first-rate performance as the cuckolded publisher husband in a Broadway production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal, with Blythe Danner and Raul Julia. His last reasonably decent role in this streak was Dr. Sam Rice in Robert Benton's Still of the Night ('82) with Meryl Streep.

From then on things started to go downhill. Scheider worked and stayed in the groove as best he could, but he seemed to take more and more straight-paycheck jobs. I thought Blue Thunder devalued him because it was basically crap despite the money it made. Playing Dr. Heywood Floyd in 2010 was a terrible thing to have done. Every film he made from '82 on was either bad, so-so, "meh" or tolerable. The only half-decent film he did in his getting-older-and-grayer period was Bart Freundlich's The Myth of Fingerprints ('97).

Ed here: I generally agree with Wells' take on Scheider's career. Someday somebody will recognize just how important a movie Sorcerer really is and how Scheider created a hardboiled character few other actors could've understoood let alone brought to the screen. Same with his take on Bob Fosse. A genius performance.

I'd also mention his performance in Elmore Leonard's 52 Pick-Up. Not a perfect movie, true. Several years ago I was doing a long piece on Elmore Leonard and Dutch I spent some time talking about 52. I agreed with him that the Anne Margaret role (though she did a good job with it) was a trumped up piece of writing that almost ruined the entire picture. Still and all Scheider shines and the three bad guys are really bad.

For me the Scheider story doesn't end there. He suffered from the same incurable cancer I have, multiple myeloma. When I aread the story in the NY Times this morning two things struck me. One that he'd died of a staph infection and two that he ws in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is where many mm patients to have stem cell transplants, the procedure that, if successful, can give you some extra years. The transplant is rough. You are blasted with so much chemo you're near death in some instances. And you have absolutely no immune system. So catching any kind of disease can be fatal very quickly.

The multiple myleoma blogs are filled with speculations about what happened to Schieder in that hospital (I'll have mine at Mayo thank you). Following transplant you're in isolation for quite a while. How do you pick up a staph infection in such a situation? One doctor who has mm mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit but I wouldn't know. Fifteen years ago I had a surgery and got a staph infection. The sickest I've ever been and an extra eight days in the hospital. If I'd had mm then I would have died.

Of course the goon squad is out full force. Following Welles excellent piece on Scheider bloggers write in. Here's my favorite, slightly incoherent but loud and clear in its ignorance and malice:

Posted by: fielding at February 10, 2008 10:51 PM

Sure it's sad, but if you're going to get myeloma and be 75, it's like a form of passive-aggressive almost-suicide. Scheider had this coming.


Posted by: dave l at February 10, 2008 11:19 PM


Graham Powell said...

I believe there's a myeloma treatment center in Little Rock because Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) died of the disease. As a wise man once said, "If there's no cure for Sam Walton, there's no cure."

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed!

Yes, Sam Walton did have MM, and is largely responsible for funding the facility there in Arkansas.

I've been to Mayo, and it's fabulous! It's like the Disney Land of hospitals. I've never experienced such efficiency and customer service.


I. Michael Koontz said...

Couple of comments:

SORCERER is a terrific forgotten film. Actually, I think it's better than the original French version (think of that scene of the truck swaying on the rope bridge! Wow.) I personally like most of 2010 (Scheider is handicapped by an often goofy script but the final scene with the new monolith in the swamp is great), but aside from that, it was all downhill for Roy when the 80's began.

About Staph infections: they're all too common in hospitals nowadays, and the most pressing question I would have is not where he got it (IV or central lines, or other catheters, perhaps, or penumonia from wherever pneumonias come from, maybe) but whether it was one of the new antibiotic-resistant forms ("MRSA"). The combination of a poor or non-functional immune system and MRSA of almost any source (if it got into the bloodstream) could easily kill. If he was in the midst of a stem-cell transplant, it wouldn't take much of a systemic infection to possibly do him in.

Anyway, that's how I see it.

Anonymous said...

Ouch, that comment was so low it's difficult to comprehend. Deserved it? Wow. As for Roy, I will forever remember that hysterical cigarette in mouth take in "Jaws," so amazingly framed by Spielberg..."I think youre going to need a bigger boat."