Iconic 'Jaws' Actress Passes Away At 77


The first victim in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 saltwater terror film “Jaws” died at 77 on Saturday.

Fox News reports that Susan Backlinie passed away from a heart attack while in her California home. News of the actress’s death was confirmed by Harvey Swindall, her husband of 30 years. “[She] was the most amazing person I’ve ever met in my life. And I’ve never loved anybody like her,” Swindall said.

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In the film, Backlinie plays Chrissie Watkins, a young swimmer whose early death struck fear into the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. While on her summer break, Watkins goes skinny dipping off the island of Amity when she is dragged under. Her remains later resurfaced, prompting a police officer and oceanographer to hunt for the killer shark. Spielberg later recalled he selected Backlinie for the role due to her strong swimming abilities.

“I didn’t want an actor to do it. I wanted a stuntperson because I needed somebody who was great in the water, who knew water ballet and knew how to endure what I imagined was going to be a whole lot of violent shaking,” Spielberg recounted in Laurent Bouzereau’s book “Spielberg: The First Ten Years,” per the Hollywood Reporter. “So, I went to stunts to find her, and Susan was up to the challenge.”

Backlinie confirmed as much in her 2017 interview with the Palm Beach Post where she discussed Spielberg’s vision for the iconic scene. “The first thing [Spielberg] said to me was, ‘When your scene is done, I want everyone under the seats with the popcorn and bubblegum,’” she said. “So, I think we did that.”

Behind the scenes, a whole production cast was responsible for creating the turbulent tug-and-pull that ultimately takes the life of her character, the actress said on “The Morning X with Barnes & Leslie”  last year.

“What they did was there were some pilings about 50 yards out on the beach, and they ran cables all the way from the beach out to the pilings in two shifts, and then they put me between the two pilings, and they had guys on the beach, about five or six on each cable,” she explained. “We marked lines on the beach, and they would pull me right to the edge of the frame on either side. And the guys just ran back and forth from mark to mark,” she said of the Martha’s Vineyard set.

While she didn’t break a rib, as one persistent rumor suggested, “we would film from anywhere from 6 to 7 in the morning till 9 because of the light. … I was home and exhausted at the end of the day,” she added.

Backlinie, a native of West Palm Beach, grew up swimming off the Florida coast and won the statewide freestyle swimming championship while in high school. She spent most of her Hollywood career working as a stuntwoman and later training animals. She appeared in the 1977 film “Day of the Animals,” a horror film with similar thematic elements to the film that made her famous.

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