He was the half-crazed fisherman-turned-bounty killer Quint in "Jaws", the superhuman assassin Red Grant in "From Russia With Love", and King Henry VIII in "A Man For All Seasons", among his other roles. Robert Shaw was one of the more recognizable faces in the '60s and '70s, illuminating the stage and the screen, as well as being a playwrite.
Shaw was born August 9, 1927, in Westhoughton, England, to Thomas and Doreen Shaw, one of four children that couple had. Quite early in his life he decided to become a theater actor; he attended England's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made his stage debut in 1949. His first role was an uncredited bit role in "The Lavender Hill Mob", but he began to gain attention on screen for his performance in "The Dam Busters", as well as appearing on the television series "The Buccaneers". Shaw made his first huge impression as Red Grant, one of the villains in the 1963 Bond film "From Russia With Love", whose climax (a fight between James Bond [Sean Connery] and Shaw on board a train) is considered one of the greatest scenes in movie history.
In the sixties, as Shaw's filmography continued to grow, his life offscreen continued to change as well. His first wife, Jennifer Bourke, who had bore him four daughters, divorced him in 1963; later that year he married Mary Ure, with whom he co-starred in "The Luck of Ginger Coffey" and "Custer Of The West". She, too, bore him four children.
Shaw also wrote numerous novels, including "The Hiding Place", which spawned a 1965 movie, "Situation Hopeless-But Not Serious", which starred Alec Guinness and Robert Redford. His play "The Man In The Glass Booth" (in which he also starred) was, in 1975, filmed as well; but Shaw was reportedly so displeased with how the film was made that he refused to be credited.
In 1965, Shaw starred in the all-star but melodramatic war film "The Battle of the Bulge" as the commander of a Nazi tank battalion. The next year, he appeared as the promiscuous King Henry VIII in the c "A Man For All Seasons" - a role that won him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In his next film, he was somewhat miscast as legendary American cavalryman George A. Custer (in "Custer of the West"). He also appeared in another all-star war film, 1969's "Battle of Britain", as well as portraying conquistador Francisco Pizarro in "The Royal Hunt of the Sun", and Winston Churchill's father in "Young Winston".
Shaw now hit his stride in what would tragically be the final leg of his career with his role as the villain Doyle Lonnegan in the Paul Newman-Robert Redford film "The Sting". Shaw's wife of twelve years, Mary Ure, died in March of 1975, a very personal loss; but whatever grief he may have suffered, he rebounded with his signature role as the neo-Ahab Quint in Steven Spielberg's "Jaws", with Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss - his role is considered by many to be his best performance, and one of cinema's unique creations - especially during the film's protracted finale on board the "Orca", Quint's vessel. On set, he quarreled with Dreyfuss often (which led to quite often real tension between their two characters), and wrote the famous monologue about the USS "Indianapolis" after a dispute broke out between writers Carl Gottlieb and Peter Benchley on how the scene should be written.
After his role in "Jaws", Shaw played the Sheriff of Nottingham in "Robin And Mariam", and he married Virginia Jansen in 1976, who bore him another child (along with her having another child from a previous marriage). Shaw also appeared in two more notable roles in the thrillers "Black Sunday" and "The Deep".
Tragically, however, Shaw's alcoholism (as he said, "I drink too much. Will you tell me one great actor who doesn't drink?") caught up with him. Shortly after completing his films, "Force Ten From Navarone" (a sequel to the classic war film "The Guns Of Navarone", him playing the character portrayed by Gregory Peck in the original) and "Avalanche Express" as a crazed general, he had a heart attack on August 28, 1978, in Tourmakeady, Ireland. Just nineteen days before, he had celebrated his fifty-first birthday. Due to his many memorable roles and plays, however, Shaw's memory as one of the greatest character actors of the 20th Century lives on.