Susan Backlinie, Who Played the First Shark Attack Victim in ‘Jaws,’ Dies at 77

Susan Backlinie, who played the first shark attack victim in Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” has died. She was 77.

Backlinie died Saturday morning at her California home due to a heart attack, Convention All Stars owner Sean Clark confirmed to Variety. The former actor and stuntwoman was one of the company’s clients.

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Backlinie was best known for her role as Chrissie Watkins in “Jaws,” who is dragged to her death by a killer shark in the 1975 film’s iconic opening scene. Backlinie specialized in swimming work as a stunt performer.

Contrary to widespread belief, Backlinie’s screams of anguish in the “Jaws” opening scene were not due to her being injured by the harness that jerked her back and forth. However, no one warned Backlinie when she would be pulled underwater in order to get a genuine reaction from her.

Variety‘s “Jaws” review said of the shark attack sequences: “The fast-moving 124-minute film engenders enormous suspense as the shark attacks a succession of people; the creature is not even seen for about 82 minutes, and a subjective camera technique makes his earlier forays excruciatingly terrifying all the more for the invisibility.”

Backlinie was born on Sept. 1, 1946. Apart from her work as an actor and stunt performer, Backlinie was also a former animal trainer. After she retired from acting, Backlinie worked as a computer accountant in Ventura, Calif.

Backlinie appeared in a handful of movies up until the early 1980s, most notably the Jim Henson-directed film “The Great Muppet Caper” (1981) and Spielberg’s “1941″ (1979). She appeared in the “Jaws” parody scene in “1941,” where she encounters a Japanese submarine instead of a great white shark.

Backlinie also appeared in a few television series, including “The Quest,” “Quark” and “The Fall Guy.” Other film credits include “The Grizzly & the Treasure” (1975), “A Stranger in My Forest” (1976) and “Day of the Animals” (1977).

Backlinie is survived by her husband, Harvey Swindall.

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