Before there was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, there was Jaws. Peter Benchley's novel sold 20 million copies and virtually invented the Hollywood summer blockbuster when Steven Spielberg put a mammoth and mean great white shark into the 1975 movie adaptation. Years later, Benchley began to give back to the much-maligned group of fish. He didn't hate sharks. He simply hadn't known much about them.
Benchley became a strong advocate for shark protection and spoke out about marine conservation in general. In the years leading up to his death, he expressed regret about portraying sharks as killing machines. "Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today," said the former Washington Post reporter in a 2006 London Daily Express story. "Sharks don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges."
Cue the scary shark music:
- According to Box Office Mojo, Jaws is one of the top 10 grossing films of all time, when adjusted for inflation. It also caused millions of people to become terrified of going anywhere near the ocean.
- "Peter kept telling people the book was fiction, it was a novel, and that he took no more responsibility for the fear of sharks than Mario Puzo (author of The Godfather) took responsibility for the Mafia," said Benchley's wife, Wendy, in an Associated Press interview.
- Benchley died of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and fatal scarring of the lungs, in 2006.