Susan Backlinie, Iconic 'Jaws' Actress and Stuntwoman, Dies at 77

Susan Backlinie, the actress and stuntwoman who played Chrissie Watkins in the iconic opening scene of "Jaws," has died at 77. Backlinie's death has sparked an outpouring of tributes from fans and colleagues in the entertainment industry.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Susan Backlinie, Iconic 'Jaws' Actress and Stuntwoman, Dies at 77

Susan Backlinie, Iconic 'Jaws' Actress and Stuntwoman, Dies at 77

Susan Backlinie, the actress and stuntwoman best known for her terrifying iconic opening scene in Steven Spielberg's classic film "Jaws" (1975), has died at the age of 77. Backlinie passed away on Saturday morning at her home in Ventura, California, as confirmed by her convention agent, Matthew Templeton.

In a statement, Templeton said, "It is with heartfelt regret to confirm our beloved Susan passed away this morning. We would like to thank everyone for their condolences at this time. Please respect the family's privacy during this difficult time."

Backlinie's iconic, dead scene as Chrissie Watkins in "Jaws" has become one of the most memorable moments in cinematic history. Her blood-curdling shrieks as she is violently dragged across the water's surface by an unseen shark shocked audiences and set the tone for the blockbuster thriller. The scene took several days to shoot, with Backlinie, a nationally ranked swimmer, enduring the physically demanding role in the frigid waters off Martha's Vineyard.

Spielberg, in the book "Spielberg: The First Ten Years," recalled choosing Backlinie for the role because he needed someone who could handle the intense physical demands. "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 said.

Born on September 1, 1946, in Ventura, California, Backlinie grew up as a skilled swimmer and diver. She worked as a mermaid performer at Florida's Weeki Wachee Springs tourist attraction before being discovered by the "Jaws" production team. Following her breakout role, Backlinie went on to appear in several other films, including "The Great Muppet Caper" (1981) and Spielberg's "1941" (1979), where she spoofed her "Jaws" scene.

In a 2015 interview with "Inside Edition," Backlinie reflected on the impact of her "Jaws" performance, saying, "I realize the scene I did terrified everybody... And the one comment I get from everybody is, 'You know, you kept me out of the water.' And some of them even say I kept them out of the tub."

Backlinie's death has sparked an outpouring of tributes from fans and colleagues in the entertainment industry. Jeffrey Kramer, who played Deputy Lee Hendricks in "Jaws," remembered his co-star as "a kind, loving soul" who will be "sorely missed by the 'Jaws' community." Backlinie is survived by her husband, Harvey Swindall.

Key Takeaways

  • Susan Backlinie, iconic "Jaws" actress, dies at 77.
  • Backlinie's terrifying opening scene in "Jaws" (1975) is a cinematic classic.
  • She was a nationally ranked swimmer and stuntwoman who endured physically demanding role.
  • Backlinie appeared in several films, including "The Great Muppet Caper" and "1941."
  • She is survived by her husband, Harvey Swindall, and remembered as a "kind, loving soul."