Peter Benchley, whose first novel, “Jaws,” sold 20 million copies and helped invent the Hollywood summer blockbuster film when Steven Spielberg made the tale of a bloodthirsty shark into a 1975 movie, has died. He was 65.
Benchley, who became a conservationist and expressed regret over portraying sharks as killing machines, died Saturday of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and fatal scarring of the lungs, at his home in Princeton, N.J., his wife, Wendy, said.
The movie became one of the top-10 grossing films of all time, when adjusted for inflation, according to Box Office Mojo, a website that tracks theatrical receipts. It also caused ocean-goers to be terrified of even dipping a toe into the sea.
“Spielberg certainly made the most superb movie; Peter was very pleased,” Wendy Benchley told Associated Press. “But Peter kept telling people the book was fiction, it was a novel, and that he took no more responsibility for the fear of sharks than Mario Puzo took responsibility for the Mafia,” she said, referring to Puzo’s screenplay and novel “The Godfather.”
“Jaws” was “entirely fiction,” Peter Benchley repeated in a London Daily Express article that appeared last week.
“Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today,” said Benchley, who also co-wrote the screenplay for “Jaws.” “Sharks don’t target human beings, and they certainly don’t hold grudges.”
The 1974 novel, about a shark that terrorizes an East Coast resort community, spent more than 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and made Benchley one of the most successful first novelists in literary history.
Some critics took issue with the tale of blood and horror for its weak characterizations, subplots and allusions to Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” especially in the final scene.
“None of the humans are particularly likable or interesting,” Rolling Stone said in 1974. “The shark was easily my favorite character