Susan Backlinie dead: Jaws star dies at 77

Actress Susan Backlinie of Jaws fame died Saturday at the age of 77.

Backlinie died of a heart attack in her California home, her agent Sean Clark told reporters.

Jaws’s iconic opening scene is credited to Backlinie’s acting chops, where she is attacked and killed by the great white shark. The stunt was not choreographed, so Backlinie’s screams sound genuine when she is pulled under the water. Additionally, she was harnessed and pulled in all directions. Co-star Richard Dreyfuss claimed in the documentary Jaws The Inside Story that director Steven Spielberg later recorded her screams by pouring water in her mouth.

Actress Susan Backlinie, who played the first victim, Christine “Chrissie” Watkins in “Jaws” signs autographs in Edgartown, Mass. on Martha’s Vineyard, Friday, June 3, 2005, after the opening ceremony for Jaws Fest 2005, a celebration event of the 30th anniversary of the movie going on June 3 through June 5 on Martha’s Vineyard. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

After the 1975 release of Backlinie’s debut film, she had roles in films such as The Great Muppet Caper and Day of the Animals. Backlinie reprised her role in Spielberg’s spoof film 1941. Her most recent role was in the series The Fall Guy in 1982.

Backlinie was a freestyle swimming state champion at Forest Hill High School. She took her swimming capabilities to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, where she worked as an underwater mermaid performer.


The actress’ death comes just a year before Jaws 50th anniversary, an event that is typically celebrated at the filming location Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. She attended the 30th anniversary in 2005.

Backlinie is survived by her husband, Harvey Swindall.

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