Susan Backlinie, actress who played the iconic first victim in Jaws, dies aged 77

13 May 2024, 07:46 | Updated: 13 May 2024, 07:59

Susan Backlinie has died aged 77
Susan Backlinie has died aged 77. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Kit Heren

The actress who played the first victim of the shark in Jaws has died aged 77.

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Susan Backlinie, whose character Chrissie Watkins was mauled by the shark after going swimming naked in the sea, died at home after suffering a heart attack.

Steven Spielberg's classic 1975 film sees Backlinie's teenage character spending time at a party with friends on the beach, before going off for a late-night swim.

A terrifying scene ensues, in which she is pulled beneath the waves by the shark as she screams for help.

She is killed and partially eaten, which helps spark the hunt for the shark.

Read more: Pictured: British victim of shark attack who is fighting for his life after being mauled in the Caribbean

Read more: Teenage surfer mauled to death by shark in Australia in front of desperate father, despite locals' fight to save him

Susan Backlinie
Susan Backlinie. Picture: Alamy

Backlinie, who was in her late twenties when the film was shot was cast for her excellent swimming ability.

Speaking on the 40th anniversary year of the film's release, she said that Spielberg told her: "When your scene is done, I want everyone under the seats with the popcorn and bubblegum.

"I think we did that."

A scene from Jaws
A scene from Jaws. Picture: Alamy

The effect of Backlinie being pulled around by the shark was achieved by putting her in a harness with ropes attached.

Several men pulled her from side to side using the ropes, and she is said not to have been told she when would be 'attacked', to help create a more genuine performance.

Rumours abounded after the filming that she had been injured by the stunt, but these turned out not to be true.

Susan Backlinie in 2018
Susan Backlinie in 2018. Picture: Alamy

Backlinie also appeared in Spielberg's 1979 parody war film 1941, poking fun at her appearance in Jaws.

Her co-star Jeffrey Kramer, who played a police officer in the film, paid tribute to her after her death.

"Susan was a kind, soul and loving soul and will be sorely missed by the Jaws community," he said. "She has a special place in our hearts!"

Jaws was a huge hit and very influential: many people credit it with creating the model of a 'summer blockbuster'.

It was the highest-grossing film of all time until the release of Star Wars two years later.