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Featured Memorial | Peter Benchley

Peter Benchley Obituary


NEW YORK (AP) - Peter Benchley, whose novel "Jaws" made millions think twice about stepping into the water even as the author himself became an advocate for the conservation of sharks, has died. He was 65.

Benchley died Saturday of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, according to his wife, Wendy.

Thanks to Benchley's 1974 novel, and Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movie of the same name, the simple act of ocean swimming became synonymous with fatal horror, of still water followed by ominous, pumping music, then teeth and blood and panic.

Benchley, the grandson of humorist Robert Benchley and son of author Nathaniel Benchley, was born in New York City in 1940. He attended the elite Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, then majored in English at Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1961. He worked at The Washington Post and Newsweek and spent two years as a speechwriter for President Johnson, writing some "difficult" speeches about the Vietnam War, Wendy Benchley said.

The author's interest in sharks was lifelong, beginning with childhood visits to Nantucket Island in Massachusetts and heightening in the mid-1960s when he read about a fisherman catching a 4,550-pound great white shark off Long Island, the setting for his novel.

While Peter Benchley co-wrote the screenplay for "Jaws," and authored several other novels, including "The Deep" and "The Island," Wendy Benchley said he was especially proud of his conservation work. He served on the national council of Environmental Defense, hosted numerous television wildlife programs, gave speeches around the world and wrote articles for National Geographic and other publications.

The author did not abide by the mayhem his book evoked. In fact, he was quite at ease around sharks, Ms. Benchley said. She recalled a trip to Guadeloupe, Mexico last year for their 40th wedding anniversary, when the two went into the water in a special cage.


Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press


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Published in The New York Times on February 14, 2006
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