She Played an Iconic Role in an Iconic Movie

Actress Susan Backlinie, who played the shark's first victim in 'Jaws,' dead at 77
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2024 2:30 AM CDT

Susan Backlinie, the actress who played perhaps one of the most iconic roles in Jaws, died Saturday morning of a heart attack at her southern California home, her husband tells TMZ. She was 77. Backlinie was a stunt performer who specialized in swimming work when she was cast as Chrissie Watkins, the shark's first victim in the 1975 Steven Spielberg film. As Variety reports, rumors that her screams during the scene were real—supposedly caused by the harness she was wearing painfully jerking her around to simulate a shark attack—are not true, but her reaction to being pulled underwater (which she was not warned would happen) was genuine.

Backlinie, who was once a nationally ranked swimmer and also worked as an animal trainer, continued her career doing stunt work in films and television shows until the 1980s. She even spoofed her Jaws role in Spielberg's 1941 (in a scene in which the great white shark is replaced by a Japanese submarine). After retiring from acting and stunt work, she worked as a computer accountant in Ventura, California. Her husband tells Fox News she "was the most amazing person I've ever met in my life. And I've never loved anybody like her." He says her death was "very unexpected." (More obituary stories.)

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