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Thread: 'Jaws' author Benchley dead at age 65

  1. #1
    Wait, what? ArchieComic Fan's Avatar
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    'Jaws' author Benchley dead at age 65

    'Jaws' author Benchley dead at age 65
    Illness claims conservationist, journalist, LBJ speechwriter

    NEW YORK (AP) -- Peter Benchley, whose novel "Jaws" terrorized millions of swimmers even as the author himself became an advocate for the conservation of sharks, has died at age 65, his widow said Sunday.

    Wendy Benchley, married to the author for 41 years, said he died Saturday night at their home in Princeton, New Jersey. The cause of death, she said, was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and a fatal scarring of the lungs.

    Thanks to Benchley's 1974 novel, and Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movie of the same name a year later, the simple act of ocean swimming became synonymous with fatal horror, of still water followed by ominous, pumping music, then teeth and blood and panic.

    "Spielberg certainly made the most superb movie; Peter was very pleased," Wendy Benchley told The Associated Press.

    "But Peter kept telling people the book was fiction, it was a novel, and that he no more took responsibility for the fear of sharks than ["Godfather" author] Mario Puzo took responsibility for the Mafia."

    Benchley, the grandson of humorist Robert Benchley and son of author Nathaniel Benchley, was born in New York City in 1940.

    He attended the elite Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, then graduated from Harvard University in 1961.

    He worked at The Washington Post and Newsweek and spent two years as a speechwriter for President Johnson, writing some "difficult" speeches about the Vietnam War, Wendy Benchley said.

    The author's interest in sharks was lifelong, beginning with childhood visits to Nantucket Island in Massachusetts and heightening in the mid-1960s when he read about a fisherman catching a 4,550-pound great white shark off Long Island, the setting for his novel.

    "I thought to myself, 'What would happen if one of those came around and wouldn't go away?"' he recalled. Benchley didn't start the novel until 1971 because he was too busy working with his day jobs.

    "There was no particular influence. My idea was to tell my first novel as a sort of long story ... just to see if I could do it. I had been a freelance writer since I was 16, and I sold things to various magazines and newspapers whenever I could."

    Proudest achievement
    While Peter Benchley co-wrote the screenplay for "Jaws," and authored several other novels, including "The Deep" and "The Island," Wendy Benchley said he was especially proud of his conservation work.

    He served on the national council of Environmental Defense, hosted numerous television wildlife programs, gave speeches around the world and wrote articles for National Geographic and other publications.

    "He cared very much about sharks. He spent most of his life trying to explain to people that if you are in the ocean, you're in the shark's territory, so it behooves you to take precautions," Wendy Benchley said.

    The author did not abide by the mayhem his book evoked. In fact, he was quite at ease around sharks, his widow said. She recalled a trip to Guadeloupe, Mexico, last year for their 40th wedding anniversary, when the two went into the water in a special cage.

    "They put bait in the water and sharks swim around and play games," she said. "We were thrilled, excited. We'd been around sharks for so long."

    Besides his wife, Peter Benchley is survived by three children and five grandchildren. A small family service will take place next week in Princeton, Wendy Benchley said.

    Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

  2. #2
    Rest in Peace, Mr. Benchley.

    That book scared the heck out of me. Perhaps I shouldn't have started reading it while I was out in a boat.

  3. #3
    Rude and Abrasive Texicana's Avatar
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    Oh no...65 is still too young! I read ALL of Peter's work, even the less than stellar books. I'm so glad he took a pro shark stance once he realized that Jaws had kicked off shark-phobia and mass indiscriminate slaughters.
    " I look like Nigella Lawson with a $#*!ing hangover."

  4. #4
    MRD is offline
    FORT Fogey MRD's Avatar
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    I too read that book as a teenager and we lived in Florida. Near the beach! I can remember very well the shark phobia for a few seasons after the book and movie.

    However, I liked his book The Deep better and the movie too even tho it bombed at the box office.

    Sad to hear he's passed.

    Does anyone else feel this way? When I read that someone who has passed on like a movie star or writer or any famous or infamous person from my childhood/teens, its like another piece of my childhood dies with them. It's a weird feeling to explain. Both my parents are gone so I don't have many people I could call and say: oh, so and so died, I always liked them.

    I particularly felt that way when Johnny Carson passed last year.
    Que me amat, amet et canem meum
    (Who loves me will love my dog also)

  5. #5
    PWS is offline
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    I was living on Long Island when Jaws came out. To this day, wherever I'm swimming in ocean, if I feel something nudge my legs while I'm wading out I have a momentary panic.
    I know what you mean, myrosiedog. It makes me realize what the really old feel, when they've outlived all their contemporaries and siblings...when there is no one you can reminisce about the past with.... when a little of your past dies you miss that chance to have it come up again.

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