Susan Backlinie, the actress and stuntwoman who played the first victim in Jaws, died from a heart attack at her home on Saturday, May 11, 2024. She was 77 years old.

Backlinie was a stuntwoman and actress who had a small but memorable role in Jaws. She played Chrissie Watkins, the character that opened the movie by going skinny dipping, and is then attacked and killed by the huge shark.

Born September 1, 1946, in Miami, Florida, Backlinie was a swimming champion and professional diver who was ranked nationally. She worked as an animal trainer, performed in water shows as a mermaid, and became a stuntwoman specializing in water-related work.

It was her skills in the water that put her on the radar of the Jaws production staff and director Steven Spielberg who wanted a stuntwoman with experience in the water.

“The crew was originally going to attach an electric wench to me to simulate the shark attack. However, I knew from past experience that electric wenches were not safe, so I asked them to use manpower instead,” Backlinie said in an interview for The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Movie Posters. “I wore shorts that had cables attached to my hips that ran to pilings about 25-yards from shore, which in turn ran back to the beach. It operated like a pulley system, with the guys running back and forth on the beach, which jerked me this way and that in the water, as if I were in the jaws of the shark. I also wore fins because Steven wanted me as high as I could possibly get above the water, which proved difficult. I had to flail my arms back and forth, throw my head back and kick with all my strength to stay above the surface. This is what made the attack look so violent. The water was about eight feet deep. The weather was quite warm, but the water was really cold. We shot with one camera for 10 days. The shots of me being pulled back and forth took two days. That very first tug was Steven yanking on my leg.”

Backlinie also starred in The Grizzly & the Treasure, Two-Minute Warning, A Stranger in the Forest, 1941, The Villian, Image of the Beast, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Fall Guy.

She regularly attended horror and pop culture conventions, meeting generations of Jaws fans.