How Did Susan Backlinie Die? 'Jaws' Star Best Known for Playing the First Shark Attack Victim Dies from Heart Attack Aged 77

Backlinie's diverse credits include roles in 'Two-Minute Warning,' 'The Great Muppet Caper,' 'Day of the Animals,' and the TV series 'The Fall Guy.'

Actress and stuntwoman Susan Backlinie, best known as the first victim of a shark attack in the movie 'Jaws,' has died. Backlinie suffered a fatal heart attack at her home in Ventura, California. She was 77. Besides her achievements in the film industry, Backlinie was also a nationally ranked swimmer and professional diver.

Before joining the cast of 'Jaws' at 28 years old, Backlinie worked as an animal trainer and performed as a mermaid. She portrayed Chrissie Watkins in Steven Spielberg's iconic 1975 film and spent three days rehearsing the opening scene, in which her character is violently thrashed around by a great white shark before disappearing beneath the waves.

Star in Her Own Right

Susan Backlinie
Susan Backlinie X

Backlinie later appeared in Spielberg's '1941,' where she parodied the scene that made her famous. Instead of being attacked by a shark, her character is rescued by a Japanese submarine.

Backlinie's diverse credits include roles in 'Two-Minute Warning,' 'The Great Muppet Caper,' 'Day of the Animals,' and the TV series 'The Fall Guy.'

Reflecting on how she secured her role in 'Jaws' during a Canadian fan convention in 2017, Backlinie revealed that she initially submitted a nude photo with her application, assuming the movie would require it. Fortunately, that wasn't the case, much to her relief.

"I do about for our five [conventions] a year, it's fun to go out and meet all the fans," Backlinie told the interviewer at the time.

"They all have the same thing to say and the main thing they say all the time is: 'You've kept me out of the water.'"

Accidental Star

Susan Backlinie
The iconic scene in Jaws where Susan Backlinie is seen being attacked by a shark before she disappears in the weaves X

At the age of 10, Backlinie relocated with her family to West Palm Beach, Florida. While attending Forest Hill High School, she excelled both as a cheerleader and a swimmer, earning the title of state swimming champion in the Class A 500-yard freestyle event in 1962, as per record archives.

The next year, she contributed to the 200-yard medley team's victory, securing the Class 2A state title for the Falcons. Following her high school graduation, she enrolled in nursing school for a year.

Wanting to do something "more athletic", Backlinie took on roles as a mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs and as an animal handler at Ivan Tors Studios in Miami.

After the Ivan Tors Studios closed, she ventured to California to join Africa U.S.A., a wildlife tourist attraction that operated until 1961.

During her time shooting on location with a tiger in Canada, the 'Jaws' team initially reached out to her.

Backlinie is survived by her husband, Harvey Swindall, with whom she lived on a houseboat off the Ventura coast. Swindall said that her death came as a 'very unexpected' loss in a statement to Fox News Digital.

Describing his wife of almost three decades, he said of her as the "most amazing person I've ever met in my life. And I've never loved anybody like her."

Backlinie's booking agent, Matthew Templeton, confirmed her death and urged fans to respect the family's privacy during this difficult time.