Jaws star Susan Backlinie’s Name Was a Nod To Syrian Descent

By AdamPublished on: May 13, 2024 Updated on: May 13, 2024
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Susan Backlinie, known for her chilling portrayal of the first shark attack victim in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, passed away at the age of 77. The news of her death was confirmed by Sean Clark, owner of Convention All Stars, where Backlinie was a client. She died from a heart attack at her California home.

Her agent 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.

Susan’s life off-screen was as vibrant and interesting as her on-screen appearances. Growing up in a multicultural family, Susan brought a vibrant and unique touch to every role she played.

In the wake of her passing, it’s worth taking a closer look at how her heritage influenced her career, how she built her net worth through her diverse roles, and the personal life she led away from the cameras.

She Was Born Into A Mixed Cultural Home

Susan was born on September 1, 1946, into a home rich with cultural diversity. Her ethnicity was Syrian and Irish/English. The Syrian roots are echoed in her last name, pronounced BACK-A-LEE-NEE, a nod to her ancestral past.

Growing up with such a diverse background gave Susan a unique perspective on the world, something that would later add a distinct flavor to her roles on screen.

She was Both an Actress and a Stuntwoman

Backlinie really made a splash with her role as Chrissie Watkins in Jaws. You know her—the one who meets a chilling end in the grip of a killer shark right at the start of the movie. It turned out to be one of the most jaw-dropping scenes in horror movie history.

And get this: her screams in that scene? Totally genuine. The crew didn’t clue her in on when she’d be dragged underwater, all to get that real, raw terror on screen.

But Susan wasn’t just about fake shark attacks. She was a whiz in the water, specializing in stunts that involved a lot of splashing around, which obviously helped her nail that Jaws gig. And she didn’t just stop there. Susan kept busy in Hollywood, popping up in films like The Great Muppet Caper in 1981 and even in Spielberg’s own 1941, where she played in a scene that poked fun at her “Jaws” role—this time with a Japanese submarine instead of a shark.

Susan Backlinie while shooting jaws
A BTS from Jaws.

Her acting chops got her parts in a bunch of films throughout the 70s and early 80s, like The Grizzly & the Treasure and Day of the Animals. She also hit the TV scene, appearing in shows like The Quest, Quark, and The Fall Guy.

And if that wasn’t enough, Susan also had skills as an animal trainer.

She Was Married Three Times

Susan Backlinie’s personal life was quite a ride, featuring three trips down the aisle. She tied the knot with Harvey Swindall in 1995, and they stayed together until her passing in 2024.

Before Harvey, there was William Seale; they eventually called it quits and went their separate ways. And then there was Monty Cox, another chapter in her life that also ended in divorce.