pbenchley.jpgPeter Bradford Benchley, a bestselling author who terrified millions of swimmers with his novel, “Jaws,” died on Feb. 11 of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and a fatal scarring of the lungs. He was 65.
Benchley was born and raised in New York City. The grandson of humorist Robert Benchley and son of author Nathaniel Benchley, Peter was destined to lead a life dominated by the written word. After graduating from Harvard University and serving with the Marine Corps in a six-month reserve program, he became a writer. Benchley worked for The Washington Post and Newsweek and wrote speeches for President Lyndon B. Johnson before delving into the hand-to-mouth existence of a freelancer.
Benchley’s other passion was sharks. His childhood visits to Nantucket Island in Mass., combined with a story he read in the mid-1960s about a fisherman who caught a 4,550-pound great white shark off Long Island, helped inspire his 1974 novel, “Jaws.” The book spent 40-plus weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 20 million copies.
A year later, Steven Spielberg directed “Jaws,” a blockbuster movie that was adapted from a script Benchley co-wrote with Carl Gottlieb. (Benchley made a cameo appearance as a reporter in the film). “Jaws” terrorized nearly everyone who saw it and spawned two sequels. It was the first movie to reach the coveted $100 million mark at the box office, and won three Academy Awards (Best Film Editing, Best Original Music and Best Sound). In 2004, Empire magazine named “Jaws” the 10th best film of all time.
Unlike the people who read and/or watched “Jaws,” Benchley wasn’t afraid of sharks. An avid environmentalist and scuba diver, he had a deep respect for the predators, and spent much of his life doing conservation work. Benchley served on the national council of Environmental Defense, and received the David B. Stone Award for distinguished service to the environment and the community. He also broadcast the syndicated radio program “The Ocean Report” to 200 stations, appeared on nearly 40 TV shows about wildlife, wrote several more books and worked on short films that show in aquariums around the world and teach youngsters about the importance of conservation.
Listen to Benchley Read From His Book, “Shark Trouble”
Listen to an Interview With NPR